Virtual Not So Real
We tend to think of virtual reality as a new phenomenon but it’s simply one end of a spectrum of realities, from the fully real world at one end to the wholly virtual at the other. Augmented reality (AR) refers to those parts closer to the real world, where virtual aspects are added. And AR’s been around for a long time. Remember how they trained the Apollo astronauts for the moon landing? The simulator was a real world replica of the lunar lander but what the astronauts saw out of the window was a virtual moon, courtesy of a remote camera over a moon model.
The attraction of augmented reality is that it brings aspects of the virtual world into a person's perception of the real world, and does so through the addition of sensations that are perceived as natural parts of an environment. So the “4D” rides at a theme park use chair movements to simulate gravity or inertia, air jets to simulate hordes of rats or scarabs and so on. Meanwhile, the Apollo setup gave birth to a whole host of serious simulators, many of them centred around the virtual battlefield.
There’s also augmented virtuality (AV), where real world inputs are embedded into a virtual world. Think of multi player computer games, where the game space is virtual, but the voices and actions are a mix of computer generated characters and your real world friends.
So why the problem with VR headsets?
The fact is, it’s wearing a VR headset that’s the problem. Firstly, the headsets remain clunky and distinctly unstylish to wear. Google glasses made the point. Secondly, most headsets remove too much of the real world stimuli from the user, making one feel even more uncomfortable. Finally, the virtual world remains imperfect, turning discomfort into nausea.
But why does any of this matter?
This all matters because the augmented reality spectrum is becoming mainstream. UK driving theory tests now include AR. It’s too expensive to train medical staff on all the scenarios they may face so AR training is in place. Mobile phones can be pointed at a landscape or city building and AR paths appear, mountains are named, architecture explained. Market Watch cites a $100bn market in a few years.
And it turns out that more and more people are using virtual avatars in their social media space. The virtual and real worlds are becoming ever more mixed.
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