Our culture is buzzing about VR, AR, and MR - and for good reason. This summer alone, Sotheby's launched the first AR real estate app; Hulu announced that it will air the first VR comedy (Door No. 1); and Microsoft is about to release SharePoint software, which will allow people to "experience" their financial assets in a digitally-enhanced setting. And if SCAD ForwardFest 2018 (a media festival championing the newest technology revolutionizing the field) was any indication, expect a period of AR and VR innovation on par with the Internet explosion of the 1990s.
Still, many of us have only a vague idea of what these initialisms even stand for. Across all industries, people are trying to find clarity. Earlier this year, Forbes published a definitional piece on AR, VR, and AR. And trendy software company Foundry posted an article on its website with the headline "VR? AR? MR? Sorry, I'm confused" (
www.foundry.com/industries/virtual-reality/vr-mr-ar-confused). There's even an ongoing Wiki about AR and VR to help keep track (xinreality.com/wiki/Main_Page).
If you aren't clear on what these terms mean, you aren't alone! With apologies to readers who are already hip to the future, here are some handy ways to envision each:
VR = "virtual reality"
Imagine holding a One-Hit Obliterator inside the fictional world of The Legend of Zelda. VR totally immerses the senses in digital content as a headset envelops eyes and ears, and hands hold a joystick or other controller. Sometimes the entire body is suited (often providing haptic feedback). VR allows the user to enter an entirely different sensory realm in which movement and interaction have (or appear to have) consequences.
AR = "augmented reality"
Picture Iron Man's or Terminator's point of view. AR enhances the real world in a way similar to how a heads-up display appears to float before your vehicle's windshield. Like Tony Stark, you see what's really there but with relevant information superimposed over it. Or think Snapchat: Your selfie filter makes you look like a puppy sticking its tongue out, which you aren't, I'm guessing.
MR = "mixed reality"
Want a deeper interaction between the real and virtual worlds? In MR, you might actually hold a hologram - and feel it as a physical object. MR's digital content knows the size and mass of real-world objects, distances between them, states of light and darkness, and much more. You can "teleport" a technician into your home. Or your virtual pet might actually go hide in a real closet in your house. So far, mixed reality is the most challenging of the three ways virtual and real interact.
VR and AR are already changing the game. All the games, in fact. And not just gaming: They're providing new ways to accomplish everyday tasks, from managing your stock portfolio to keeping track of shipping containers in a dockyard. These technologies make surgeons' lives easier, for example, by projecting digital information over a real abdominal wall to allow an ultra-precise laparotomy. And, this is just a small sampling of how AR and AR are being used.
Those beginning to think about what they're going to study in college and beyond should consider AR and VR as more than novelties that make selfie filters possible, or as the exclusive province of gaming and entertainment. These tools are as useful as hammers and screwdrivers.
AR & VR Outside of Entertainment
Consider some of the uses for AR and VR beyond entertainment.
Perhaps the biggest immediate change VR will bring is in the way people prepare for their jobs. Decades ago, pilots and astronauts trained using simulators, but, in the near future, all industries will have access to virtual training devices. When miners enter a tricky shaft, they will have already been there - quite possibly that very same shaft's virtual twin! Pro athletes will never face an in-game situation they hadn't already simulated. Even sexual harassment training will likely soon be delivered in VR.
VR also will make life easier for people who think visually rather than analytically. The financial services industry has already pioneered ways to allow customers to "experience" their stock portfolios, investment growth, and retirement savings by walking through it. Imagine entering a city whose skyline represents the total value of different investments. Imagine that they're different colors based on how quickly they've grown over a certain period of time. Visual thinkers will be able to make better, more informed decisions about their money.
One huge way AR will help make the world a better place is by creating accommodations for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Microsoft HoloLens software developers are already working on ways to translate spoken language into visual signs so deaf people can "hear" a speaker in real time.
AR will also revolutionize the way we drive cars. Imagine looking forward toward the road ahead and seeing arrows extending gracefully down the route you've mapped. Picture safety alerts "existing" in a way that you don't need to rely solely on orange cones and traffic-message trailer signs, whereby the warning turns an entire section of the road orange - or pulsing with light.
AR will help the elderly, too. Delivered via Google Glass devices that look very much like normal eyewear (and, in fact, can be prescription glasses), AR will help older users navigate tricky shopping trips or errands with greater ease by labeling "to do" items by priority and suggesting easier pedestrian, walker, or wheelchair routes.
Throughout history, at times of significant technological change, inventive people have risen up and moved the world forward. When the printing press debuted, when steam power was harnessed, when the first lightbulb flickered on, or when the first email was sent - creative, visionary people caught on to the implications of those changes and applied them in new ways.
The big question is, how will you contribute? What role will you play?
Paula S. Wallace is the president and founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
In Fall 2018, SCAD launched a new BFA degree in immersive reality. The fully comprehensive degree combines AR, VR, and mixed-reality courses, allowing students to be on the forefront of this innovative industry. The new degree curriculum comprises 36 courses, 11 of which are new for the program, including Immersive Revolution: Augmented to Virtual Reality, Integration of Immersive Realities, Immersive Sound Design, Visual Effects for Immersive Environments and Game Engine Applications for Immersive Computing. Eleven new cutting-edge courses were created for the new degree program. In addition to the new Immersive Reality degree, SCAD hosts several annual events that feature new developments in AR/VR, including AnimationFest, SCAD Savannah Film Festival, aTVfest, and GamingFest.