Hi everyone, my name is Connor DeFanti, and I am a 5th year Ph.D. student here at the Future Reality Lab. During my time here, I have seen some very exciting advancements in the world of Virtual Reality, and my goal is to be a part of those very exciting advancements.
Every day, there are four terms I work with:
Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality, and Extended Reality.
If you’re reading this blog, then I’m going to guess you’ve heard of these terms. But, if you haven’t heard of them, or if you’re like me and sometimes get nuances in terms confused, here’s a quick breakdown:
Virtual Reality: Only virtual objects and environments are perceived.
Mixed Reality: Virtual objects are perceived inside of real environments, with the virtual objects being opaque.
Augmented Reality: Virtual objects are perceived inside of real environments, with the virtual objects being transparent.
Extended Reality: A catch-all term for the above, or a term used when you forget which one of the above is applicable.
I don’t really like these terms. I wouldn’t say I have anything personal against them, and they are useful for describing the technologies that we work with now. However, being a researcher, I like to think about the future of these technologies. And in the future, I don’t think any of these terms will be useful.
First, I see a lot of people get hung up over “Virtual Reality” vs. “Augmented Reality,” hotly debating which one will dominate the other. Right now, due to the limitations in technology we have, we see these as two separate worlds. However, in a future world where we have powerful enough hardware, a person in a remote location should be able to interact with their two friends who are physically together, blending the virtual and real. When this happens, I don’t think we’ll think of “Virtual Reality” and “Augmented Reality” as two different things.
The other main issue is that mixed, augmented, and extended are all saying the same thing to me: these technologies aim to integrate into our lives and improve how we interact with reality. Not only are these words fairly interchangeable in this context, but that description also fits the vast majority of technology. Smartphones, the Internet, computers, it would be very difficult to make the argument that these haven’t augmented our lives. We could even go back to early technologies: plumbing greatly extended how societies functioned, but nobody would say that those Romans lived in the age of “Extended Reality.”
Speaking of Smartphones, we started to see their widespread use in America about a decade ago. For the first few years, we distinguished them from the other phones by calling them Smartphones. I had a flip phone at the time, but I just called it my phone. Fast forward five or so years, and Smartphones became phones. When I say “I got a new phone today,” almost everyone I talk to would assume I meant some brand of Smartphone. In fact, I’ve probably used Smartphone more in this blog post than I have in the past year!
The point is, as we adopt technologies into society, and as they become integrated as parts of our everyday lives, we stop using terms that once distinguished them as odd and novel. So, eventually, we won’t need to use “Augmented Reality” or “Extended Reality,” we’ll just have one term:
There’s a pretty major assumption I’m making here, but I’m pretty comfortable making it. That assumption is that these Extended Reality technologies will one day be integrated in our lives like Smartphones. It is going to take a lot of work to get there, but I wouldn’t be a researcher in this space if I didn’t truly believe in it. I believe that these technologies will be something that that vast majority of us use on a daily basis, and I believe that day is coming soon.
Over my next blog posts, I will talk about what I believe will need to happen, and the work I’m doing to fit into that goal. But that is a large amount of material to cover, and I can only write so much in one post. Until then, have a good day in Unaugmented Reality.
Banner image credit to https://www.flickr.com/photos/zakmc/ and Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
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