We often treat virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) like reality TV stars—we pit them against each other and we sometimes confuse them for one another.
The truth is, VR and AR can coexist and get along famously. Before we discuss a few uses for each, here are quick definitions of both:
VR is a computer-generated, artificial simulation of real-life environments or situations. (Think headsets and high-sensory games like Zombie Training Simulator.) It immerses the user by making them feel like they’re experiencing the simulated reality firsthand, primarily by stimulating what they see and hear.
AR is a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements atop an existing reality, with the goal of a meaningful interaction. AR is developed into apps and used on mobile devices to blend digital components into the real world, enhancing one another. (Think apps like Pokémon Go, but AR also utilizes glasses such as Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens.)
In other words, VR delivers a digital recreation of real-life settings, while AR offers virtual elements as an overlay to the real world. Now let’s look at some relevant uses for each:
VR for trade shows
In the endless pursuit of generating trade show buzz, organizations are hiring companies to create VR experiences within their booths. These exhibits range from VR spectacles that have nothing to do with the host company to feeble attempts at integrating real products with third-party VR vendor capabilities. We think companies can do better.
At car shows, for example, we’d like to see more VR exhibits that go beyond race simulators or game-like experiences. Imagine a large automaker providing 360°, detailed walkthroughs of a vehicle—with no vehicle onsite. In fact, the car hasn’t even made it beyond a digital existence. By providing consumers with a fully immersive VR experience of future vehicles, automakers can capture valuable feedback before concepting a physical product. What do consumers really think of the digitally designed body, hood, cabin, control panel, fender, gadgets and bezel? That’s valuable data that usually comes after big dollars are put into a physical concept. Henry Ford never saw this coming.
AR for military
Military personnel in combat don’t have the luxury of taking their eyes off the field of battle. AR glasses enable soldiers to keep focused on real-life situations, while accessing critical intelligence transmitted to the glasses display. (Remember the biker bar scene from Terminator 2, when the Terminator computed data as it searched for clothes and transportation?) With AR, military intelligence such as location, targets, distance and incoming messages are accessible on-screen by voice, all while a soldier is engaged in reality.
VR for real estate
Now that VR is penetrating the real estate industry, house hunters can tour properties without leaving their home—eliminating visits to homes that don’t meet their requirements. VR-enabled open houses will allow buyers to explore every square foot of prospective homes, shaving off hours of wasted weekend travel time. Buyers will only spend time physically visiting homes they truly see themselves living in. Sellers and real estate agents will also benefit, as the percentage of physical visits that result in offers should increase dramatically.
As real estate technology advances, buyers will no longer have to imagine their own furniture or style in a prospective home, either. VR will digitally do the work for them.
AR for medical
Similar to the military example, healthcare professionals can someday leverage medical-grade AR glasses to gain critical patient data, all while keeping focused on the patient. Imagine a surgeon performing an operation while the patient’s vitals appear on the doctor’s AR glasses. When needed or requested, on-screen alerts can include blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, temperature, blood oxygen saturation and more.