My daughter is excited that Apple is going to be releasing a virtual reality headset. I don’t really understand how “virtual” reality compares to “augmented” reality, however, so am hoping you can clarify?
The logical place to start this discussion is to explore actual reality. If you watched the 1999 film “The Matrix”, you already know that we’re all just batteries, floating in tubs and “living” in a hyper-realistic simulation. Okay, okay, maybe that’s a bit far flung as theories go, but “reality” is a good starting place nonetheless.
Reality is generally defined by the evidence of our senses, so without going too Aristotelian on you, let’s use that as the basis of the subsequent discussion.
Attend a trade show, bump into an old neighbor at the park, or just view someone from across a room and it’s up to your sight and memory to identify them. What if instead a tiny window popped up over their head that listed their name and how you know them. Wouldn’t that be handy? That’s “augmented reality”.
AR, as it’s known, is something your kids might already be familiar with through games like Pokemon Go or Wizards Unite. If you’ve used “Live View” in Google Maps, you’ve also experienced augmented reality. Now imagine that instead of requiring a smartphone the information was projected onto the lens of your glasses or, someday, on smart contact lenses.
Virtual reality is the next step, where instead of adding information to your senses, it seeks to replace that sensory input. VR starts with sight and sound and is typified by a large and unwieldy headset. Inside that headset are a screen designed to be viewed from an inch or two away and earbuds to slip into your ears for the audio component.
Critical to virtual reality working is motion sensors. Turn your head to a side and the VR view and audio should change. Look up and the virtual view should track that with no lag at all. The earliest VR devices had delays on motion that would leave people feeling queasy.
VR doesn’t have to be limited to vision and hearing, however; tactile feedback (“haptic”) gloves are the next logical step, offering touch. Haptic gloves can also offer a fascinating system interaction interface option too, as brilliantly imagined in the sci-fi film “Minority Report”. Want to flip to the next page of a document? Just swipe your hand!
Turn those feedback gloves into a full-body haptic suit and you’re just about ready for full sensory immersion virtual reality as highlighted in films like “Ready Player One”. Are we there yet? No, but we are getting close with all the tech on the market…
Then again, we don’t yet know exactly what Apple will be offering to its customers later this year, do we?
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