With so much talk of the metaverse and the next evolution in our digital lives circulating in recent months, virtual reality (VR) has received an increasing amount of attention in the media.
In one sense this is completely understandable, given that the metaverse itself is a virtual world that recreates aspects of the physical world using digital technologies. At the very least, this is the vision of the metaverse that has been set out by Mark Zuckerberg, who is currently building a VR social platform where users interact with each other in a fully digital world.
Closely allied to the topic, augmented reality (AR) is an often overlooked and under-studied technology that will provide a bridge between the physical and virtual world. But what exactly is AR, and what kind of usage of AR can we expect to see in the future?
AR vs VR: what’s the difference?
Although in many respects they serve similar functions, AR and VR are distinct in their own rights. While VR focuses on creating a digital environment that is completely separate from the real environment, AR is layered on top of the real world.
This ‘layering’ of the virtual world on top of the physical world might come in many different forms but most commonly, it will involve layering videos, images and other interactive types of data to enrich the real-world experience of the user.
VR experiences will most often be delivered to a person through a headset that seals the user off from the real world. In contrast, AR experiences can be delivered through a range of different devices including smart glasses, headsets and even smartphones.
A good example of an AR experience you might have come across is filters on social media. These filters are overlaid on a real-world image in real time to produce an augmented picture or video. Other common AR experiences you might have come across include the use of QR codes in restaurants or at museum exhibits, as well as virtual ‘try-on’ services on e-commerce platforms.
What AR applications might we see?
As we have seen in these examples, there is a wide range of potential applications for AR across a number of different industries and sectors. And in many respects, these are more varied than for VR. But what are some of the industries that have been eying the potential of this technology and how can we expect them to use it?
- Medical training: Whether it is operating complex equipment or performing complex surgeries, AR holds the potential to enhance medical training. University medical students are already trialing AR headsets that will allow them to undergo intensive training in an interactive AR environment.
- Retail and e-commerce: Many online brands and shopping platforms have already started using AR tech to enhance the online shopping experience.
- Education: At all levels of education, AR can be used to enhance both real world and virtual classroom experiences.
- Logistics: Shipping and logistics companies have started testing AR tech to help warehouses operate more efficiently.
- Tourism: AR experiences can be deployed across the tourism sector. This includes being used in museums and at other attractions, as well as on websites specializing in selling travel experiences.
AR and the media: what does the future hold?
AR arguably has the most potential commercial applications in the media and entertainment sectors.
Many entertainment brands and platforms are now looking to AR as a technology that can be used to develop marketing campaigns, to build deeper bonds between their characters and audience, and to deliver unique, immersive experiences.
The potential applications for AR can be found across a range of different media, including movies, TV and video games. For content creators, AR holds the potential to bridge the gap between the imagined worlds we explore through these media forms and our real lives.
AR gaming is already a multibillion-dollar industry, with franchises such as the Pokémon series having sold millions of copies. Similarly, basic AR technologies have already featured in popular entertainment shows such as WWE wrestling.
We have also seen AR technology being used to reinvigorate in-person events, such as live concerts, as well as to make other live events safer or more accessible. For example, attendees can use AR to obtain real-time information at sporting events.
Although this is just a small sample of some of the applications of AR we have already seen and might see in the media and entertainment sectors, we can already get a sense of just how varied it can be. With that said, the only limit to what this technology holds is our own imagination!