AR and VR: An Inside Look

by Alex Nieves, Contributor

Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR) have become two wildly popular terms used today, but they leave several puzzled, as they both are very confusing terms. What’s the difference between the two? Why are they so popular? How can VR/AR be used today in more ways than just fancy video games? What makes them really different?

VR is a term used to describe a way to put people in a completely virtual space of direct interaction, while AR is where someone can still see the world around him or her, but a program changes how things can appear and work.

For instance, a user can see their hands and desk, but there are some alterations. The user can press buttons or just pull out a tab. This breakthrough program allows us to do several tasks like displaying notifications, telling the news, showing a planner, turning on lights, etc. This is one of the many uses for AR: we can upgrade the world around us to be more useful or productive. This technology exists right now and Ar video games can be downloaded on the app store.

All of these AR concepts sound great, but they can seem complicated, expensive or they are difficult to obtain. But people have already been utilizing AR concepts almost every day?

For example, Snapchat has been using AR capabilities for years now with their dynamic filters. A phone’s camera can detect a human face and can augment what is happening and put whatever it wants on someone’s face, like dog ears and nose, or even turn someone’s face into a piece of toast! The back-facing camera can also be used to have someone’s Bitmoji dance on the floor in front of them.

Virtual Reality (VR), however, is one of the fastest growing tech markets today. There are some issues with VR that AR does not need to endure, such as a required headset with screens on the inside, complicated controls and more computer processing power. These items add up and make VR also, on average, much more expensive than AR.

VR headsets can be very light, like Google Cardboard or can be relatively heavy, like the HTC Vive Headset. These headsets use two HD screens that completely visually envelop the user in a virtual world.

Google Cardboard, a simple VR headset that uses a smartphone as the screen, can cost as little as $6. Purchasing an HTC Vive setup, though, can cost as much as $500. A full PC that is recommended to support high-quality VR experiences from the Oculus Rift website can cost an extra $800-$2000.

What is the difference between all these systems? Google Cardboard can let a user look around in a virtual world and use one button to perform any pre-programmed function, while the HTC Vive/Oculus Rift can not only provide a virtual world and let the user look around, but also pick up and handle objects and physically walk/crouch in the virtual world. This allows VR to have many different experiences, from walking the streets of Venice to flying through a scaled-down solar system, touching and playing with the planets themselves.

An interesting concept of VR is the psychological aspects of “full immersion.” When a user’s body is in a completely virtual world with surround-sound, the body can be tricked into thinking it is actually experiencing the virtual world it is in. Newcomers to the VR scene are prone to falling or becoming disorientated in certain experiences. A person may try and lean on a virtual table but will fall forward. Another person may feel temporarily disoriented when their virtual character moves when their physical body is not.

The discrepancies between the virtual and physical world present a tough problem for developers — how do we create an immersive experience without disturbing the user? Destin from Smarter Every Day has an amazing VR series, showcasing some ways startup companies are changing the game.

One company called Haptx has successfully made Virtual Reality Haptic Gloves. Destin best describes them as “ that will not only be able to allow users to feel objects that you touch but can also use breakthrough technology to allow users to physically pick up virtual objects. When a user pick up a rock, his or her fingers will feel the surface of the object and will feel the resistance of the surface, so the user’s fingers can contort around the virtual object.

So what do MC students and faculty have to say about AR and VR?

“AR is pretty much the next big thing, because you’re adding stuff that wasn’t there before. It’s amazing, especially for work productivity.” said Luis Salazar, the graduate assistant for the networking group at MC’s Information Technology Services. “If you want to build live 3D models of buildings, you can create virtual walkthroughs. VR has more practical uses, though. If you want to simulate flying a plane, the full simulation is great!”

He continued.

“Though the tech now is sometimes wonky, it’s amazing for the future of video games! It sucks that the tech is expensive now, so I think some people won’t see the use for this just yet, but wait,” Salazar said.

Senior computer engineering major Christopher Dubois, however, had a different take on the matter. He owns two VR devices, including the PlayStation VR and the Oculus Rift, but does not use either too often.

“I feel like the technology is cool, it’s fun, but it feels weird to have some headset strapped to your head; you can’t see reality, really. I’m not super comfortable using it yet, I guess, but the technology has come a long way since its start,” Dubois said.

He continued.

“The next generation of VR will definitely be the definitive version of it, especially when they fix a lot of the aesthetic problems with it,” he said.