Keeping it ‘Real’ – Virtual and Augmented Reality

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3D View Master

Virtual reality? Most of us have experienced one of the oldest versions of ‘Virtual Reality‘ without realising it – the simple yet much sought after little red device with a circular sheet of images. Yes, the good ‘ol ViewMaster that supposedly transported us into jungles, oceans, and also amidst our favourite cartoon characters. This 3D imagery around our eyes as a visual simulator, was created in… any guesses?… 1939! That’s 75 years ago! So Google Cardboard – literally a piece of cardboard held against the eyes, doesn’t seem like a huge step forward. But of course the eyes will tell you that there is a world of difference… and a smartphone inside it.

As I was just wrapping my head around the concept of Virtual Reality, I recently had the fortune of a quick demo around the other type of reality – Augmented Reality! And it is extremely fascinating, especially when one imagines all the areas of application.

First some cheat notes for newbies:

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment. The simplest form of virtual reality is a 3-D image that can be explored interactively by moving the mouse or keys and zooming in and out. VR is just that – a virtual/artificial surrounding to replace your existing environment. It is intended to immerse you into this new space and mirror your head movements to give you the feeling that you exist in this new world. It has two obvious applications. The first being where it originated – in the airforce – to act as a teaching tool, like a flight simulator. The second is using its ability to immerse and transport you to a fictional world – video games. Simply put, it is headphones for the eyes. Virtual reality headsets are of two types:

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Google Cardboard
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Mark Zuckerberg with Oculus
  1. An accessory like Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR. Here the smartphone, which is inserted into the headset, acts as the VR engine and screen. The phone has inbuilt features that detect motion and speed (gyroscope and accelerometer for the techie types).
  2. A standalone headset like Oculus Rift (yes the one Mark loves!) with inbuilt techie features – VR engine, screen, gyroscope etc.

The standalone ones obviously give you a much more immersive effect. This is one of the fastest growing spaces with several key players emerging in the span of a year or so – Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, HTC Vive and Sony Project Morpheus.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality on the other hand just augments or adds to the reality you’re experiencing. Typically this is by adding an overlay to what you are already seeing. The term was coined in the early ’90s when Boeing used a head-mounted display to guide workers putting together electrical wiring for aircraft equipment. It is the integration of digital information with live video or the user’s environment in real-time – blending new information into the existing reality. This is pretty much what Google Glass does using a handsfree headset that you slip on like a pair of glasses.

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Google Maps AR

Reality by FlippAR

Here I had a chance to see some great work happening in this space by FlippAR in Bangalore. FlippAR is a user-engagement mobile based platform for advertisers to deeply engage with their customers using their existing advertisement mediums and make their ads come alive. FlippAR uses Augmented Reality to provide engaging content to make the existing static advertisements come alive. This allows for amazing levels of personalisation in content. You could be looking at watches in a magazine. You immediately point your phone at a watch you like and then move the phone over your wrist to see how that watch would look on your wrist. What an amazing way to shop and feel like you actually tried it on! See it in action:

 

The applications for augmented reality are huge with FlippAR currently focussing on how to make visuals and advertisements more engaging for the consumer and also leading to more conversions for the seller. You just need the FlippAR app on your phone and as they continuously expand their database of images and products, you can point at just about anything and experience it better. Even point at say a Sony TV and be led to sites and links to buy the same or similar TVs. Shopping made so simple.

You can extend this to just about anything you buy. See a sofa you like, click it and place it in your living room and see how it looks. And who would do this better than IKEA:

So here’s looking at 2016 with a new pair of eyes as we augment and immerse ourselves into a whole new world!

And a 2016 update:

See how AR takes colouring books to a whole new amazing level by Disney!

To talk to the author over the phone, click here.

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