from the world's big
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.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.