AR and VR: Differences and Applications

  • 08 June, 2021

Extended reality (XR) can enhance our experiences using technology, whether by overlaying information on what we see in the real world or creating an entirely separate, immersive space. XR is an umbrella term that encompasses all augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). AR simulates artificial objects in the real environment1 while VR creates an artificial environment to inhabit2. In AR, digital elements are added to a live view of a person's environment, allowing that person to engage in real time with the elements as they see them overlaid in the real world-for example, games like Pokémon Go or applications like Snapchat with interactive lenses3. In contrast, VR uses digital elements to construct entirely immersive spaces that shut out the physical world with wearable headsets4. VR allows users to interact with both real-world and imagined environments5 like the summit of Mt. Everest or the surface of Pluto, respectively. There are different situations where one type of extended reality may be more suitable. This blog article will explore the differences between AR and VR and the scenarios to which they may best be applied.

AR let us see the real-life environment with a digital augmentation6 overlay. This technology makes it seem as though the digital elements are actually there in the same space we are. AR is becoming increasingly popular with mobile game and app developers. One of the most popular and successful AR games is Pokémon Go, a mobile game released in 2016 in which users can "catch" the Pokémon that appear as if they are in the user's surroundings. For example, because water-type Pokémon can only be found and captured around and in water sources, the game relies on GPS information to know where water sources are located before water Pokémon are automatically positioned there. Gaming is only one of the applications of AR technology, however.

AR is currently used in combination with GPS and navigation software to superimpose a route over the live view of the road7, making directions easier for drivers to recognize and follow. AR is helpful to furniture stores such as IKEA®, whose app, IKEA Place, allows users to place virtual furniture in their rooms to see whether the items will fit or if they match the preexisting décor8. AR can also prove extremely beneficial in education; museum attendees can take a photo of existing artwork and access information about the piece or see digital versions of the artist alongside9. In a classroom setting, AR can help students visualize information, provide examples of concepts, and even add gaming elements to provide textbook material support10. There are innumerable benefits outside of gaming and entertainment to implementing AR technologies into our daily lives.

AR and VR: Differences and Applications

VR technologies are equally important to communication and conceptualization but generate a more immersive experience than AR. While AR overlays virtual information into your real world, VR transports you somewhere else entirely. Objects in these 3D worlds seem to take up space, and act and look differently depending on where the user is located. VR gaming is becoming increasingly popular, allowing users to act out gameplay in real life instead of directing an avatar with a controller. Two of the most popular VR games include Beat Saber, a VR fitness game, and Half-Life: Alyx, a campaign featuring excellent graphics and overall gaming experience11. Just like AR, though, the applications of this technology greatly exceed the entertainment and gaming industries.

Automobile companies like BMW use VR for engineers to design and review new concepts for their cars, all before any money has been spent on physically manufacturing the parts12. VR is helpful within healthcare and medicine as well; some people believe that VR can have a positive effect on recovery from chronic pain, back pain, and more13. The opportunity to access therapies outside of prescription medications is important, especially when we consider America's opioid problem14. One interesting application of VR includes charity work: at the 2017 UN Ocean Conference, an immersive VR expedition called "Cry Out: The Lonely Whale Experience" was used to demonstrate ocean waste and sound pollution. "Cry Out" influenced over 25 countries to make commitments to ocean health as part of the Clean Seas Campaign15, demonstrating the efficacy of these technologies. Google has created Google Expeditions, an education app allowing teachers and students access to hundreds of VR tours, including the Great Barrier Reef and America's national parks16.

XR benefits production and manufacturing industries, consumer goods industries, education, and even charities, allowing users and consumers to access virtual products and experience virtual worlds. While both AR and VR can be used to demonstrate these ideas and concepts, there are certain scenarios where one technology may be more applicable than the other. Curious about designing XR applications? Check out EduMind's AR/VR class to learn more:

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9 Coates, Charlotte. "How Museums Are Using Augmented Reality." MuseumNext, September 17, 2020.
10 Sinha, Shweta. "Augmented Reality In Education." eLearning Industry, January 2, 2021.,doesn't%20forget%20visuals%20easily.
11 "10 Best VR Games (Virtual Reality Games) For Oculus, PC, PS4." Software Testing Help, April 30, 2021.
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15 Thompson, Trisa. "Pioneering Virtual Reality and Its Potential to Improve Our World." Dell Technologies, January 25, 2018.
16 "What Is Expeditions?" Google. Accessed May 10, 2021.
About the Author: Martha Hunsucker

Martha Hunsucker is a content writer for EduMind. She received her BA in English from Stetson University and has experience marketing, copywriting, editing, and blogging. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books by Jon Krakauer (her current favorite author), hiking with her two dogs, and sleeping in on weekends.

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