Virtual and Augmented reality represent new technologies that provide real time applications to provide users with computer-mediated environmental sensory experiences. This is a fast-moving field and terminology and applications are rapidly evloving.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Generally we can consider virtual reality as an artificial environment that is created with computer software and presented to the user in such a way that they accept it as a real environment in which they can interact and have a real sense of presence in. On the computer, virtual reality is currently primarily experienced through sight and sound, although touch based technologies are also becoming available, that allow users to hold and manipulate virtual items.
The simplest form of virtual reality is a three-dimensional (3D) image that can be explored interactively through a computer, usually by manipulating a mouse or game controller so that the content of the image moves in some direction or zooms in or out. More sophisticated efforts involve such approaches as wrap-around display screens, actual rooms augmented with wearable computers, and haptics (touch feedback) devices that let you feel the display images.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) is the integration of digital information onto a user’s view of their actual environment in real time. AR takes an existing real environment and blends new information into it. One of the first commercial applications of AR technology was by Boeing to project wiring schematics on a visual headset display for the production of wiring looms in aircraft manufacture. Another simple example is the use of labels over players in sporting events on the television, giving the viewer additional information.
Augmented reality programs programs allow the developer to tie video, animation or contextual digital information provided by a computer program to the user’s view of the world (through a headset or screen) by use of an augmented reality “marker” in the real world (commonly called a point of interest or POI).
An AR application uses image recognition, or geographical location (from GPS and cellphone triangulation) to recognize a marker. Simple 2D or 3D image recognition may be used or barcode/QR Code readers. These trigger the display of a “call to action” or directly results in the display of additional digital information on the user’s device screen or headset display. When the computer’s AR app or browser plug-in receives the digital information contained in the marker, it begins to execute the code for the augmented reality program, and overlay additional digital information. It may also perform other functions (such as triggering a map or video to pop up).
Blended or Mixed AR/VR Technologies
Sometimes referred to as hybrid reality,this is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and can be interacted with in real time. Mixed reality takes place not only in the physical world or the virtual world, but involves a mix of both. The users experience is predominantly VR based, but includes AR elements. E.g. The HTC Vive headset incorporates laser scanning stations monitor your movements in the real world, and now has a front-facing camera to also allow you to see real objects like chairs or people in front of you whilst moving around the VR environment.
These emerging technologies have considerable healthcare applications, and this site is dedicated to exploring and disseminating such work.