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VR vs AR: What's the difference?
What's the difference between VR and AR? Find out what they are and what these emerging technologies are being used for around the world.
Virtual reality (VR) employs computer-generated information like images and sounds to create an immersive, 3D digital simulated environment, whereas augmented reality (AR) uses digital information to enhance our experiences of reality.
The history of VR
One of the first VR technologies was created in the late 1950s and was called the Sensorama. It used 3D images on film, plus fans, odor emitters and a vibration chair to stimulate a viewer’s senses. When a person sat in the chair, placed their head inside the machine’s hood and looked at an internal screen, a 3D movie would start, complete with sound, air flow, odors and vibrations. The Sensorama never caught on because making the 3D films was too expensive at the time. In this early VR technology, we can understand what virtual reality is and some of its characteristics.
Today, VR has matured considerably, with application in gaming, shopping, medicine and skills training.
The history of AR
The term augmented reality was coined at Boeing in 1990 by researcher Tom Caudell. Boeing used manual processes for the display of schematics for factory floor workers, until Caudell and an associate conceived a system using glasses that workers could wear which would project complex wiring diagrams onto reusable boards instead of having to manually place the diagrams on plywood boards. In effect, Caudell and his colleague had created a precursor to Google Glass, albeit in a simpler form.
VR and gaming
VR works very well for gaming because it enhances various computer games by providing richer, simulated environments and realistic characters and scenarios. According to one estimate, the global VR market might hit the $27 billion mark by 2022. Another prediction pegged the VR gaming market at over $40 billion by 2024. (The overall gaming market is actually much larger than the VR portion, at well over $100 billion per year.)
AR and manufacturing
Flash forward from the 1990s, and these days Boeing does use smart glasses combined with software to better manage various forms of work during the assembly of its planes. For example, wiring production time was cut by about one-quarter using this method, which means planes can be constructed faster. Error rates have been reduced as well using the AR technology. Electrical system wiring and the installation of cabins are just two areas where the technology has been beneficial.
A factory worker builds agricultural machinery using Google Glass AR. (Photo: AGCO)
French aerospace company Airbus also employs smart glasses to reduce manufacturing time and errors. Lockheed Martin has been using this form of AR technology as well in the manufacturing of its F-35 fighter jets.
In fact, AR has been predicted to begin appearing in a number workplaces to increase productivity by improving how we interact with data.
Google Glass has been used by a solar power installation company to help workers in the field access important documents like design plans while working, instead of having to stop and use paper documents or laptop computers.
There are also other AR glasses being developed by other companies which are intended to be very lightweight and provide extra layers of information straight to human eyes in beneficial ways.
VR and shopping
If VR shopping sounds sort of weird or ‘out there’ it actually has already become somewhat mainstream. Wal-Mart, one of America’s largest employers, has begun using it to train new employees, by simulating stressful scenarios. This allows trainees to prepare themselves when they experience real-world events like holiday rushes or cleaning up the mess in aisle 7.
The e-commerce giant Alibaba released VR shopping in China which allows millions of users to browse stores from home.
Alibaba's virtual shopping experience. (Image: Alibaba)
VR has been studied to see if it might help companies better understand how context influences consumer decision-making. For example, researchers provided adults with photographs of a beach and instructed them to imagine they were there and presented with beverage choices. Later they provided them with VR experiences of a beach and presented them with the same beverage choices. The VR experiences resulted in more consumer engagement and influenced their beverage choices more. So, VR might be used to create contextual shopping experiences which influence purchase decisions. (The ethics of this strategy are an issue that wasn’t examined by the study.)
VR and medicine
VR has also been used for medical training, specifically for surgical simulations. By employing technology used for many years in flight simulations and applying it to neurology, 3D virtual brain surgeries can be performed. Medical students and doctors can practice hundreds of times or more using VR so they are well-prepared before operating on live humans. The images used in the system for training can be from former patients so they are as realistic and accurate as possible. Similar systems are also being evaluated for heart surgery and spinal surgery.
Screenshot from a VR medical training session. (Credit: Clyde DeSouza on YouTube)
Because VR is a digital, immersive environment it can be used in very creative ways to try to solve human problems, like soothing autistic children and helping them learn to better manage the visual and auditory stimuli they experience so they can regulate their emotions.
VR can potentially also be used to reduce the suffering of burn patients because distracting the human brain is a powerful way to relieve pain. Early research has indicated that the distraction resulting from the use of VR might be more effective than morphine for pain relief. Considering that tens of millions of people around the world suffer from chronic pain the potential of VR to reduce suffering is very intriguing.
Researchers at Duke University tested VR physiotherapy on paraplegics. By simulating moving through a stadium using a soccer player avatar the research subjects activated parts of their brains and trained them. As a result, they regained some movement in their real limbs.
Because of VR’s ability to simulate environments, the technology has also demonstrated some promise for helping individuals with PTSD recover. One form of PTSD therapy involves exposing the patient to sensory information that was present during the initial trauma. These sensory experiences—including some scenes depicting conflict—can be re-created using VR so the patient can experience them in small ‘doses’ virtually and begin to acclimate to them.
AR and medicine
Researchers and clinicians are exploring how AR might be used to improve surgical outcomes, reduce the invasiveness of procedures and decrease surgery times. Another potential application is the use of supplemental visual information right next to, or above a surgical site. This visual layer could display information such as the patient’s vital signs or data about the particular patient’s condition or anatomy. With essential information displayed right next to the site where the surgeon is working there would be no need to look away to computer monitors several feet or more away.
Concept illustration of AR transparent display telementoring approach: overall view of system at trainee surgeon site (left), and trainee view (right). (Credit: Daniel Anderson et al.)
While operating room conditions are often the best for many procedures there are still some which are performed elsewhere, such as in a patient’s room. In these scenarios, the same high level of support is unavailable, but using AR could improve the surgical process by consolidating
information from various patient monitors into one view. Furthermore, some patient monitoring and data display systems are completely separate from one another. Integrating them could free up much-needed physical space in patient rooms, streamlining the environment to be less consumed by electrical cords and blinking monitors and more conducive to rest and healing.
VR and education
VR has been used for educational purposes like Google Expedition which allows users to have immersive 3D experiences of historical or cultural significance. Over one million students have taken these virtual field trips.
A Stanford University Business Innovation certificate program is partially delivered using VR, and VR chat has been used at the University of British Columbia to deliver lectures. Some colleges and universities have used VR to create online campus tours. The implications for enhancing remote or long-distance learning are enormous.
At a more granular level, there has been a surge in the number of educational apps and some of them have proven to be very popular with students in classrooms and free-range curious folks. Star Chart is a VR app for your phone that, when combined with hardware—like the inexpensive $15 Google Cardboard viewer—lets you wander our solar system in detail, see real-time views, and get up close to 88 constellations. Google’s Tilt Brush is another incredible app that lets you paint in 3D space using VR. Ever wondered what it’s like to step inside an artwork? Watch this Tilt Brush demo video to give you an idea of how this app can blow your creativity up.
AR in education
AR apps have already been used in educational settings for a variety of enhancements, like turning physical textbooks into pop-up books by adding 3D graphics to them, or allowing students to receive information when they point a tablet at particular objects.
Flash cards are a very old learning aid, but AR apps have been created that add 3D digital images to them. A flash card depicts, say, a 2D animal and the AR app inserts 3D digital images that correspond to it. The 3D digital images can move and they are linked to audio files which play the animal’s vocalizations. The AR sensory overlays add extra visual and sound information for learners which helps them identify and recall the animal content. The AR content also includes the digital representation of the foods in the animal diets which enhances the learning experience.
Within the AR world, there are scores of apps and software programs. The AR game Pokémon Go is probably the one we have all heard of, but there are many, many more and new ones are being created continually. Google Sky Map is an Android AR app that turns your phone into a planetarium. Just point it up and Sky Map will reveal the location of stars, planets, beautiful nebulae and other celestial bodies. For iOS users, Monster Park brings the world of dinosaurs to life, crashing around very close to you. You can also dissect frogs on Froggipedia, which saves frogs lives and is a gift to squeamish high school students everywhere.
The variety of AR apps on offer is already enormous, so start Googling for your interests or head to YouTube for visual demonstrations that can give you a taste of what augmented reality could look like for you.
What’s in store for the future?
A market research report published in 2017 predicted that the size of the AR market could reach $133 billion by 2021, which trumps VR’s market size.
VR and AR both have benefits and each is suitable for different purposes. One thing they have in common is anticipated growth—it is expected that they will continue to develop extensively and increasingly be adopted to solve various problems in business, healthcare, education and workplaces. And also let us have a whole lot of fun.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
A study by UK archaeologists finds that longbows caused horrific injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- UK archaeologists discover medieval longbows caused injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- The damage was caused by the arrows spinning clockwise.
- No longbows from medieval times survived until our times.
Battle of Agincourt.
The angle of entry into a cranium found during the excavation at a medieval Dominican friary in Exeter, England.
Credit: Oliver Creighton/University of Exeter
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Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>