All You Want to Know about VR, AR, Mixed Reality but Are Afraid to Ask
Are you confused by all those funky terms that emerged recently? They all ring a bell a bit, but also… not so much? Well, we’re here to help!
To be able to fully understand Virtual Reality it’s best to be aware of the bigger picture and different technologies that surround them. This article will give you a helpful background for understanding what VR is and what it ain’t.
So, let’s get started!
From reality to virtuality
Let’s go back to 1994 when Paul Milgram, professor at University of Toronto, introduced the concept of Reality-Virtuality continuum. Shall we have a look at the illustration below?
As you can see, Real Environment and Virtual Environment are two extremes in the continuum. VR environment is where a user is totally immersed in a completely synthetic world. VR might mirror physical laws of gravity as well as time and material properties. It might also break the common rules we’re all used to. On the other hand though, Real Environment is the total opposite. It consists of only real objects and always meets laws of physics.
There’s a whole spectrum of environments in-between those two extremes. This range of environments with different ratio of real and virtual objects is called Mixed Reality. We can divide MR further into Augmented Reality and Augmented Virtuality.
Augmented Virtuality environment might be especially interesting. It’s a mostly virtual environment integrated with real elements which are interactive in real time.
It can be achieved either by streaming a video from physical spaces, or by adding 3D representation of objects from the real reality…
…or by other people:
So far we’ve been considering only adding virtual objects to real environments. Imagine an environment which modifies reality in some way. Perhaps you’ve seen White Christmas – special episode of Black Mirror series – where Joe’s girlfriend blocked him. Every time they saw each other, they could only see pixelated shape of themselves and hear incomprehensible voice. They lived in an example of Mediated Reality.
Steve Mann, Canadian researcher and inventor, introduced a more general framework to describe different environments by adding second axis to virtuality continuum, called mediality continuum. Let’s check it out.
Adding second axis to Milgram’s continuum gives the possibility to describe environments that modify or diminish human perception. Mediated Reality or Virtuality as well as Diminished Reality can be distinguished. The first one can change real objects (the color, the size etc.). The last one is a real environment with deliberately hidden parts of it. Imagine a headset you put on and since then you no longer can notice banner advertisements! How cool would that be?!
It’s pretty important to stress out that there are different types of headsets that can shift a person from Real Reality to other environment. Not all of them use LCD screens. What might be even more interesting, not all of them have to create a final view of an environment in front of our eyes!
Since 1970’s Steve Mann has been working on different versions of EyeTap. It’s a device positioned in front of person’s eyes. It uses beam splitter to capture exactly what the eye can see, processes the view and then sends enhanced image directly on the eye’s retina where it superimposes with the natural view. You can see the way it works below.
Steve Mann used EyeTap to shift infrared light into visible spectrum. That enabled him to literally see how hot objects were!
Steve Mann proposed a new term in 2018 called Multimediated Reality or All Reality which can be abbreviated to R. The concept includes not just interactive multimedia-based “reality” for our five senses, but also includes additional senses (like sensory sonar, sensory radar, etc.). Those extra senses are translated into the human ones, giving us totally new ways of experiencing the world around us.
The future of VR
It’s safe to assume, that the future of VR will be an inseparable part of the whole Mixed Reality experience. Perhaps, when the technology evolves, we’ll all be equipped with one device which will enable us to move freely from Real Reality, through Mixed Reality and into Virtual Reality. Using such a device would give us the possibility to adjust the level of immersion and virtuality depending on our current needs.