What are the differences between virtual, augmented and mixed reality?

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Nowadays, many professionals and companies use the terms virtual, augmented and mixed reality, which shows an impressive evolution in technology. However, these three technologies are more or less recent and are often still misunderstood. They tend to be confused and misinterpreted. How to recognize these three terms in order to differentiate them correctly, and thus better understand how they work? Let's discover how imagination and reality mix in the professional world!

What is virtual, augmented and mixed reality?

First of all, there is the non-immersive virtual reality: it is used with a computer, a television or a tablet, and the immersive virtual reality: it is used with a VR headset. This will create a total immersion for the user, with the sensation of being in a completely different space thanks to the virtual reality headset. There is a possibility to move in this fictitious environment, with the use of controls for example. This completely imaginary space allows the user to escape and project himself in a new world, making a total abstraction of the real world that surrounds him.

As far as augmented reality is concerned, it gives the possibility to a person to superimpose images or information in real time in his environment. This makes it possible to enrich reality by integrating virtual elements such as sounds, 2D and 3D images, videos and texts through devices such as phones, tablets, headsets or even connected glasses. We can take the example of Pokémon go which had a huge success in 2016: you had to use your phone in order to perceive the virtual elements, and interact with the real environment. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality needs the real world to create interactions with the user. The goal of this technology is to create a personalized, unique and revolutionary experience.

Finally, mixed reality allows a person to interact with a virtual world in real time. This technology combines both virtual reality and augmented reality, meaning that the user can see the virtual world, but also the real world. Real and digital objects interact and create an immersive experience. Mixed reality is used with a headset, unlike augmented reality where the use of a device was essential.  

In what areas can we use these technologies?

The use of these three technologies are not only intended for entertainment like video games or movies. Today, more and more fields are using them:

  • Events and culture: Take virtual trips to art museums or simply visit a country, all from your home.
  • Professional sports: Access to training programs to help professional athletes train before their competition.
  • Architecture: Creating structures and designing them to identify problems before building them.
  • Automotive: Save time, money and maintain safety and efficiency by creating prototype vehicles, while predicting manufacturing costs.
  • Training: Simulate a work environment in order to become familiar with the realization of different tasks, to learn the right gestures or to train in difficult and stressful situations.
  • Health: Helping in rehabilitation, surgeons during operations, hypnosis or relaxation. Although there are many organizations involved, we find H'ability with the use of virtual reality for rehabilitation. This gives the possibility to patients who have lost the motor skills of their upper limbs to have a playful and gamified rehabilitation. Different exercises are adapted to people with motor disorders of the upper limb, balance disorders but also cognitive disorders.  

The future of these technologies

While these terms may sound futuristic, technology has caught up with fiction, with market experts claiming rapid growth for the VR industry. With the covid crisis in 2020, the virtual reality market was affected, but it has returned to a strong growth of over 46% in 2021 (according to a study conducted by IDC). These technologies are used in several sectors, as we have seen previously. The topic of the metaverse is also topical, as companies can use this medium to let their employees telework, while maintaining a social link with interactions in a virtual world. This allows to meet colleagues while staying at home. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality are constantly evolving and offer a promising future in the working world.

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