How did the introduction of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) change the way that humans interact socially, culturally and politically? That’s the big question isn’t it? To answer this question, it’s crucial to delve into the development and evolution of AR and VR technologies, how it has been popularly trending in communications media and information management. In this post, attention will also be drawn to the various parties that benefit from its influence on the political economy and socio-cultural implications. It is through the evolution of AR and VR that has led to the increasing cases where mixed realities have established a dominance in societal infrastructure and the way we humans interact with technology on an everyday basis.
What is AR and VR?
In today’s technological realm, gaming technologies such as the Oculus Rift and multiple smart phone gaming apps, have found its place under the spotlight of the masses. By using VR technologies, they “immerse” (Kipper & Rampolla, 2012, pp. 1) the players inside a digital world, where the players are blinded from the physical world around him. Similarly, in AR, the users experience of the real world is enhanced by overlaying “computer generated information” (Kipper & Rampolla, 2012, pp. 1) on top of the surrounding physical environment that the player is at. Kipper & Rampolla state the three characteristics that define AR. “AR combines real and virtual information, AR is interactive in real – time, AR operates and is used in a 3D environment” (Kipper & Rampolla, 2012, pp. 3). This then alludes to the concept of mixed realities which encompasses AR and a new term as what Gutiérrez, Vexo & Thalmann introduce, ‘augmented virtuality’, further pointing out that both terms hold the characteristics of both the physical world and the virtual (Gutiérrez, Vexo & Thalmann, 2008).
The Origins and Evolution of AR and VR
AR and VR technologies has long been existence since 1962, which at that time, developed from many inventions into what it is in modern day technology. However, some people seem to claim that panoramic paintings of the 1800’s were where the first examples of virtual reality were seen. Taking a look at the 20th century, one of the closest resemblances to modern day VR and AR was the inspiration from a motorcycle simulator built by Morton Heilig called ‘Sensorama’. The Sensorama was one of the earliest immersive technologies to be innovated. This simulator encompassed the senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing. This was and would be claimed as the ancestor to watching 3D movies in cinemas that are now a regular affair to us (Pope, 2018).
Soon after, a computer scientist who goes by the name of Ivan Sutherland pondered about the possibility of creating a multi-sensory experience activating all the senses of the human body within a technological experience. The creation took the form of a custom built headset connected to a computer as opposed to being connected to a camera. It used various simple graphics from the computer which was then projected into the headset. This was dubbed as the foundation for the birth of modern day virtual technologies where, only after 15 years later, did other larger companies seek an interest in mixed reality technologies. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, other companies started to design their own headsets with additional virtual technological accessories such as gloves (Pope, 2018).
In 2013, the first commercial VR headset came into the market allowing consumers to purchase their own set. This virtual headset was dubbed the Oculus Rift, where soon after many other companies followed and created their own versions. The Oculus Rift was made specifically for gaming where the Oculus would immerse the player into the world that was on screen (Pope, 2018). The two images below are the comparisons of the first Oculus Rift that was made available to the public when it first debuted, and the second is the latest version that is being sold on the market in 2019
Developers Oculus Rift in 2012 (left)(TechCrunch, 2019), compared to the 2019 Oculus Rift S on the market (right)(VRScout, 2019)
How Does it Contribute to Historical Trends in Communications Media or Information Management and What Are It’s Socio-cultural and Economical Impacts
AR and VR continue to contribute to historical trends in communication media and information management through two ways. The first is through the application of AR and VR into societal infrastructure networks as seen in Kipper’s & Rampolla’s example of augmenting a retail store. The second is through the application of mixed realities into touristic landscapes.
Kipper & Rampolla suggest that when it comes to information management, AR has a large role to play. The cohesiveness of AR as a collator and distribution of information from various parties is crucial to its rise to popularity and availability of smartphone technology. AR is not only an upcoming sector of interest but it also brings the collection of accessible information, presenting it in a visually illustrative medium to users (Kipper & Rampolla, 2012). This is exemplified in the study of Bonetti et. al, where they strategize ways in which a physical commercial shop can be transformed into an augmented reality experience offering the enjoyment of engaging the consumer’s range of senses in the process of retail shopping. This was tested as a concept to increase the likelihood of consumers physically visiting these retail stores. More specifically, Bonetti et. al, aimed to achieve this through the enhancement of the consumer’s perception of the products as well as the overall atmosphere of the shop itself, thus, influencing consumer perception with the AR affiliated brands and products, shining a positive light on it (Bonetti, Pantano, Warnaby, Quinn & Perry, 2019).
Similarly, the creation of virtually augmented experiences for the tourism sector has been well received, urging other organizations within the tourism industry to innovate a range of augmented experiences to create added value. These creations and innovations through the evolution of technology has not only led to each new entertainment experience breaking global trends, but has also changed the way in which tourists behave, make decisions and acquire information whilst travelling (Cranmer, 2019). One example where these changes were most prominent was when a smartphone gaming application titled ‘Pokémon Go’ developed by Niantic was released worldwide in the middle of 2016. For players to be able to find a variation of Pokémon, the game encouraged the users to ‘travel’. A study carried out on the effects of this game players found that “92% said it makes them go out and exercise” (Druga, 2018, pp. 23). Tim Merel from TechCrunch reports Niantic’s game as a success in terms of sales, but goes on to discuss that these revolutionary trends in smartphone apps are not as industry reforming as the public believes. Studies have shown that with AR at the core of tourist infrastructure experience, it provides organizations with a competitive edge via the integration of mixed realities into tourist experiences (Cranmer, 2019).
An exemplary image of how AR data is overlaid upon the natural environments through the game ‘Pokémon Go’ (Technostacks Infotech Pvt. Ltd, 2019)
The AR and VR sector and Competing Brands
The AR & VR industry is growing rapidly with important companies such as Google producing the Magic Leap, the HoloLens by Microsoft, the Oculus VR by Facebook and many others to just name a few. These are only a few of the biggest players so far. Apple has recently entered this sector where they have recently bought over Metaio, an AR company headquartered in Germany. The AR and VR industry is expected to explode during the course of the next decade, with 2014 and 2015 investments totaling up to $3.5 billion dollars. Digi-Capital estimates that by 2020, the VR industry will be worth US$30 billion, whilst the AR industry will be worth US$120 billion. This quadruple fold difference is due to the increase in accessibility and convenience of AR technology whilst people are out and about or on the move, whereas VR technology restricts the movement of users (Druga, 2018).
AR and VR in Enterprise
Infographic from Heartwood ‘ A Look at Virtual Reality in the Enterprise’, (Heartwood, 2019)
Heartwood notes that the application of AR and VR can be brought to four areas, as shown above in the following infographic.These industries are architecture and construction, product design, training and merchandising. These industries benefit from mixed realities in different ways. Thomas highlights how the benefits to workers, specifically in the designing and innovating sectors of the industry, come from a range of devices rather than just one singular device. Thomas draws attention to helpfulness of everyday technology that is currently present in our lives such as tablets, smartphones and screen monitors. These provide enhanced cognitive ability allowing clearer feed of information to make better judgements. It’s through this mix of AR, VR, extended reality and mixed realities that collate and present data that is available to us in a new light (Thomas, 2019). It is important to mention that the medical industry is rising as a major industry. Their increased dependency on AR and VR would allow them to simulate educating future doctors and nurses with the possibility of visualizing non-existent patients and it would be interesting to see a custom built technology such as the oculus for medical teams to explore and learn.
- Kipper, G., & Rampolla, J. (2012). Augmented Reality: An Emerging Technologies Guide to AR(pp. 1 -28). Synergy
- Bonetti, F., Pantano, E., Warnaby, G., Quinn, L., & Perry, P. (2019). Augmented Reality in Real Stores: Empirical Evidence from Consumers’ Interaction with AR in a Retail Format. Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality, 3-16. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-06246-0_1
- Gutiérrez, M., Vexo, F., & Thalmann, D. (2008). Stepping into Virtual Reality(pp. 117 – 122). London: Springer-Verlag London Ltd.
- Cranmer, E. (2019). Designing Valuable Augmented Reality Tourism Application Experiences. In M. tom Dieck & T. Jung, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality The Power of AR and VR for Business(pp. 73 – 87). Cham: Springer International Publishing: Imprint: Springer. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-06246-0_6
- Druga, M. (2018). Pokemon GO: Where VR and AR Have Gone Since Its Inception. IEEE Potentials, 37(1), 23-26. doi: 10.1109/mpot.2017.2675498
- Technostacks Infotech Pvt. Ltd. (2019). In-game gameplay of Pokemon Go where a user is attempting to catch an Onyx Pokemon at a road junction[Image]. Retrieved from https://images.app.goo.gl/6oqkKSumgB3iCnkp6
- Heartwood. (2019). Infographic titled ‘A Look At Virtual Reality in the Enterprise [Image]. Retrieved from https://hwd3d.com/blog/3d-interactive-tech-talk-5-benefits-vr-enterprise/
- Thomas, M. (2019). Benefts of digitizing reality for workers in manufacturing: Internet of Things (IoT) digital realities allow workers to benefit from augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR) to better solve problems.(ANSWERS REDESIGNING FOR AR/VR TECHNOLOGIES). Control Engineering, 66(7).
- Pope, H. (2018). Chapter 1. Introduction to Virtual and Augmented Reality. Library Technology Reports, 54(6), 5–7. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/2099872876/
- TechCrunch. (2019). Developers Oculus Rift in 2012 [Image]. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2014/03/26/a-brief-history-of-oculus/
- VRScout. (2019). 2019 Oculus Rift S Available on the Market [Image]. Retrieved from https://vrscout.com/news/oculus-rift-s-arrives-spring-2019/