For hundreds of years people have wanted to exist in a fantasy world right alongside the wildest beings of their imagination. Fantasy writers from previous centuries wrote novels like “Alice in Wonderland” because people are naturally excited about escaping their mundane lives to experience something they would never get a chance to experience in real life. I remember my earliest days in Elementary School, my friends and I played the Madden NFL football game together and salivated over the possibility of potentially one day putting on a helmet and virtually becoming an NFL player and using our actual arms to throw touchdown passes to Terrell Owens. In the past decade or so we have jumped leaps and bounds with the ability to have virtual elements added to our real world. This is all thanks in part to augmented reality and virtual reality. In other words, augmented and virtual reality have arrived.
Augmented Reality refers to a technology that overlays virtual elements onto the real world, enhancing the user's perception and interaction with their environment. AR blends the real and virtual worlds, allowing users to see and interact with virtual objects while still being aware of their physical surroundings. Augmented reality has been used in a variety of fields to enhance the experience for employees and clients alike.
Uses of Augmented Reality
Retail: Several retail companies have used augmented reality in order to make their customers’ lives easier and to enhance the buying experience. For example Swedish furniture chain IKEA developed their Place App in 2017. The app allows you to view pieces of furniture on your screen and then using the dimensions of your room it allows you to see how the piece of furniture would look in a specific spot in your room on the screen of your phone. The app puts the furniture to scale with 98% accuracy and even shows how the current lighting would render your furniture’s appearance. Because of this Ikea’s app became popular and has been 8.5 million times. Nike has also developed their own augmented reality app. Nike Fit developed in 2019 was created after Nike research showed that 60% of people wore the wrong size shoe. The app allows users to scan their feet by pointing their phone camera toward them. The app is found to measure foot size correctly with two millimeters. The app generates a shoe size and then allows the customer to choose a pair of shoes they like in the shoe size. Later version added the feature that would send a digital pair of shoes to the feet on the screen of your phone. The process was found to make shoe shopping easier as many no longer felt the need to go into a physical store to shop for shoes.
Gaming- In 2016 Pokemon Go, a mobile game, took the world by storm. In the game players walk in real life down city streets, parks and country roads to have random encounters with the Japanese anime series fabled “pocket monsters”. The game has had overwhelming success and has been downloaded over 65 million times onto smartphones. The game has also been credited with promoting exercise as players physically have to explore the real world surroundings to play it. Mixing virtual elements with real life has led to a revitalized desire to be outdoors especially for the younger population.
Military- Augmented Reality does not have to be all fun and games. The U.S. Army has developed augmented reality goggles over the past few years. The new IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmentation System) goggles developed by Microsoft have added many important features to a fighting soldier’s experience. Using holographic imagery the new technological device allows soldiers to see through smoke and around corners. They can also pull up virtual terrain maps to view as they are seeing what is really in front of them. The new goggles also add an 80 degree field for night vision which is double the field of view from previous night vision goggles. Certainly adding virtual features to the soldier's experience would certainly help in practice. It should be noted though that The US Army has experienced complications and that light emitted from goggles were found to be dangerous as soldiers could be easier to spot by enemies. While augmented reality seems to be rapidly improving it should be noted it still has its shortcomings.
The Future of Augmented Reality
As you can see the possibilities of augmented reality can already be deemed as astounding. However, the current usage of augmented reality may just be the tip of the iceberg. Many have theorized that augmented reality could be used in the medical field to make surgeries more precise as medical imagery could be used to overlap as reference. Many police departments have begun to implement augmented reality in training for officers to feel like they’re handling real conflict without unnecessary dangers facing them before they are sent out to the field. Many car manufacturers have added augmented reality to their GPS systems to show drivers exactly where they need to turn using an arrow system on physical streets. The wonders of augmented reality are only going to become more wild to the imagination
Virtual Reality, on the other hand, creates a simulated environment that completely immerses users and transports them to a virtual world. By wearing a VR headset, users are visually and sometimes audibly isolated from the physical world, enabling them to interact with and explore the digital environment. There are several virtual reality headsets on the market for personal and professional use. Apple has developed the Virtual Pro Headset, Oculus has developed the VR Rift and Quest and Sony has developed the PlayStation VR specifically meant for gaming. The benefit of Virtual Reality is that it can be used to train for various occupations that involve high risk, it could be used to give tourism experiences to those who may not have the time or money to afford them and it could help them get over deeply entrenched fears.
Uses of Virtual Reality
Training for Jobs: A startup by the name of FLAIM has developed their own virtual reality headset to train firefighters. The goggles provide an immersive simulation for potential candidates. High resolution images are broadcast to the VR headset which places the candidate in various scenarios involving fires including airports, residences and highways. The device uses multisensory simulation as well as scientific fire behavior models developed by an algorithm to make the simulation as realistic as possible.The system also provides live feedback for the user so that they can instantaneously learn what they are doing right and wrong in the moment as decisions are made. FLAIM devices are currently used in over 35 countries and FLAIM currently has more than 250 clients. In addition many in the medical field have started using virtual reality as a way to prepare them for their careers in the field. SimX, a program built by medical professionals, offers an intensive program for those who want to be doctors or nurses. The program, which can be used on nearly any headset previously purchased, provides trainees with 150 different player models, 30 different environments and over 300 tools and procedures. The program is wireless and there is even a feature that allows “multiplayer” where two people with headsets can be placed into the same scenario to work together. The best part about the multiplayer feature is that it is cross-platform meaning that two players do not have to have the same exact devices in order to interact in the simulation. The person controlling the simulation could also control different factors making the situation the trainees are facing easier or harder as the case goes along. The tool is definitely representative of the unpredictability of the medical field.
Virtual Reality Travel: Many have the goal of traveling the world. Unfortunately, for many they have budget or time constraints which prevent them from doing so. Thankfully with a variety of virtual reality travel experiences on the market travel enthusiasts can now get a taste of what different destinations are like all from the comfort of their own living room. One of the most popular virtual reality travel programs on the market comes from National Geographic. In National Geographic’s virtual reality program users can explore destinations like Machu Picchu and Antarctica. In the travel simulations you are taken by a guide with a goal of capturing pictures of rare artifacts from both the Incan City and the world’s largest desert. The experience is immersive and it allows you to take photographs at free will. Traveling via Virtual Reality has definitely been in an upward trend especially since the COVID pandemic. Valeriy Kondruk, CEO of a virtual travel company Ascape said from December 2019 to April 2020 the company saw a 60% increase in downloads. Certainly the virtual tourism industry received a lot of exposure during unprecedented times and used it to grow their sales. It remains a curiosity on whether this trend will continue, but they obviously have a good start.
Mental Health: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) has been developed as a tool for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to cope with their traumas in a safe manner. Programs have been developed to allow someone to safely be exposed to stimuli that trigger anxiety or fear. Stimuli can be brought on gradually in a safe and controlled environment to make a patient feel safe while still giving them exposure to their triggers. Many programs provide real time guidance and feedback to give those with PTSD necessary coping skills. Then patients can take coping skills they learned in the simulation and translate the skills to real life scenarios. According to research in JMIR Serious Games, virtual reality therapy in the form of VRET has a success rate of between 66% and 90% for individuals with PTSD when used to enhance cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The study also showed that many have successfully used virtual reality therapy as pain relief as a substitution for many medications. Virtual reality thus is not only adding to those who provide care for a living, but also the patients themselves.
Future of Virtual Reality: There are many proposed or planned uses for virtual reality in the future. Virtual field trips in schools are becoming a popular idea. In Social Studies classes many teachers are unable to take students to places where the most important historical events took place due to obvious logistical issues. With constant updates to virtual reality travel there seems to be a push to possibly bring virtual reality to the classroom. Additionally, sports franchises could potentially use virtual reality to simulate game scenarios that could not be replicated otherwise. Of course the entertainment industry is constantly looking for ways to enhance the viewer’s experience so many film production companies as well as video game developers could look to use this new technology.
Why Augmented and Virtual Reality Are Here To Stay
If the case was not yet clear, augmented and virtual realities have had great effects as many industries have made strides and/or improved sales when put to proper use. Many employees, clients, customers, and students are visual learners so seeing and experiencing what they will be providing or buying makes for a more immersive experience. As time goes on technology will only improve. The improvements that augmented and virtual realities have made have really only been the work of the past decade or so. The trends have resulted in increased satisfaction and results from all parties using these new technologies. As more time and money gets spent on research and development the wonders of virtual and augmented realities will only become more superior.