I’m a huge fan of the multiverse theory. The very thought that in some parallel universe there’s a version of me who’s not committing the same blunders as me, who’s a lot smarter, stronger, and better than me in real life, is both comforting and reassuring. And I’d go on to say I’m not alone. For most of us, we’d love to see, and experience what’s beyond the real. That’s precisely what excites me about augmented and virtual reality.
A quick Google search will throw you a very simple definition of the augmented reality that reads, “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.”
If you open the Snapchat or Instagram apps on your smartphone, the photo filters you see practically give you bunny ears and cool specs. These are the simplest forms of AR. Augmented reality is beyond photo filters and has far reaching potential to change our lives.
How does augmented reality work?
The augmented reality is based on two key components – hardware and software. Fortunately, modern high-end devices (particularly smartphones and tablets) come with almost everything that is required for the AR to work. For basic AR to work, you don’t really need an additional device. For hardware, technology relies on sensors (such as GPS, compass, and GPS among others) processor, camera and display – all of these already available on your handheld devices.
For software, there are a number of algorithm standards that are used by different companies. For an example, the open source lovers can check out ATOMIC Authoring Tool that is used for creating AR apps for Microsoft Windows, Linux and Apple’s Mac.
The idea is to generate a digital image that is imposed on the world seen through your camera lens. All the components work together to project that image and further let you interact with it.
The role of sensors is primarily to collect the data of the real world and interact with them. Cameras, on the other hand, are used to scan the data about your surrounding. The AR then combines all the data to analyze the surrounding and elements into it, and then process the data to deliver an appropriate output.
While this is the basic use case, we have seen some advancements in this space as well. For an example, Microsoft’s much talked about Hololens technology leverages depth sensing cameras to understand the environment better. You can interact with the AR through various inputs like gestures or simple voice commands.
In projection based reality format, the camera captures the surrounding and then the data is processed to show the digital images on the real life surface. Combined with gesture support, the technology could allow you to interact with the digital images on a real surface rather on your smartphone display. Consider this as an advanced version of the projector that is beaming 3D content on any kind of surface and lets you interact with them.
Besides smartphones, there are a slew of dedicated AR-devices. These range from Google Glass-like glasses, contact lenses to virtual retina displays.
Why is Augmented Reality so cool?
So what more you can do with the augmented reality besides imposing silly photo filters? Well, while you can play a slew of games, say shooting zombies right in your house. One of the biggest use case and easily the most popular one was the Pokemon Go. The AR game makes users go out in the real world and collect a number of virtual Pokemon.
AR makes a lot of sense to businesses as well. For an example, a realtor could let you customize your living room with right dimensions just by projecting a 3D version of it. The AR is already being used a variety of businesses. And it benefits users to a lot of extents as well. Services like Lenskart let you try out 3D glasses virtually.
And then there’s Google’s Project Tango that has created a platform for such AR-based apps. I recently tried out the Asus ZenFone AR and was fairly impressed. Check out the video below to know more.
In my opinion, augmented reality makes a lot of sense for the education segment. For an example, students can gather all the textbook knowledge about say dinosaurs, but how cool it could be if young children could see a 3D version of it and interact with it. With the concept of gamification of education getting a lot of traction, it’d be a better augmented reality makes its way to the education segment a lot faster.
While augmented reality involved a combination of real life imagery with the digital world, virtual reality completely takes over the real world and replaces with a virtual environment. VR is more immersive in terms of experience and lets you look around and even interact with the virtual world with a slew of input types.
How does virtual reality work?
To get started with virtual reality, you’d need a secondary device such as a VR headset. These secondary devices are either dependent on your smartphones or a PC to deliver the experience. However, standalone VR headsets are in the works, and they should be available commercially sooner or later.
While the need for a secondary device is a hurdle at the moment, the good thing is that the VR displays can work the existing technologies that are widely available on smartphones. The basic requirements usually include motion and gyroscope sensors, smaller displayers and dedicated processors if necessary. Nowadays, 360-degree cameras or VR cameras are widely used to create VR content.
At the moment, all of the major technology companies have invested in the virtual reality. Google made the technology more mainstream with its Cardboard platform and now has evolved to Daydream that makes VR a native element in the smartphones. Thanks to Cardboard, there are a plenty of affordable VR devices in the market. For more premium experience, there’s Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive among others. All of these high-end devices are backed by a wide range of content, ranging from games to movies.
What makes VR so cool?
While AR appears to have limited use cases, VR opens a pandora’s box for opportunities. While easiest things you can guess is movies, basic videos, and games, the VR is being used in the health industry as well. According to a study, an immersive VR can help in pain management. NASA is said to have used the technology for more than two decades. The space agency used the technology for creating a simulation of space while training on Earth. And then, of course, the education segment, where students can experiment, learn and innovate in a virtual world.