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Defining Realities: What are AR, VR, and MR?

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There is a fair amount of confusion about the differences between the different interactive technologies. The terms augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and even mixed reality (MR), are thrown around a lot today, but people either confuse them or use them incorrectly. Here’s a quick guide to each so you know what each one is and how their defining characteristics look like.

Augmented reality (AR) adds digital elements to a live view, often by using the camera on a smartphone. Elements such as text, images, or audio will be overlaid on the actual environment surrounding a user through their smart device. There are many examples of augmented reality already being utilised on smartphones, from Snapchat filters to the worldwide gaming phenomenon Pokémon GO.

Virtual reality (VR) is a completely immersive experience that shuts out the physical world and puts the user in a fully artificial reality. Using VR devices such as the Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, users can be transported into any number of simulated environments, from realistic towns and cities to fantastical locations like underwater paradises or space.

Mixed Reality (MR) is not actually a single definable environment like the two above. All of these realities lie in something known as the Virtuality Continuum. This is a scale that tracks the progression from the Real World, all the way through to Virtual reality.

As you can see in the image below, mixed reality is any environment that mixes the real and virtual world.

All of these technologies come under the umbrella term of Extended Reality (XR). This covers all of the various technologies that enhance our senses, whether it is by providing additional information about our actual world or creating totally unreal, simulated worlds for us to experience.

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