Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies form the Metaverse creation layer. They are the building block technologies that create the 3D worlds in which users can explore. Highly accessible versions of the tech, such a Web-based XR technology, or WebXR, WebAR & WebVR are paving the way for making XR technology mainstream.
The metaverse is an immersive digital world that intermingles with the real world. AR and VR are the two main technologies that will determine how we interact and engage with that digital world.
To understand what that will look like, we first need to properly define a few acronyms: AR, VR, MR, and XR.
Augmented Reality (AR) merges elements of our real world with the digital world. Usually, this means adding digital elements to real-world settings. The most recognizable example of this is Pokémon Go, where you can catch a digital creature that appears to be standing in front of you (looking through your phone) in the real world.
While gaming is certainly a popular application of Augmented Reality, it is by no means limited to it. In fact, in recent years, Augmented Reality has been surging forward in marketing and eCommerce. This surge is mostly due to a huge advancement in the technology, known as WebAR.
AR used to be limited to apps and specially-built platforms. However, WebAR has released the technology from those expensive confines and made it accessible to businesses of all sizes and even the private sector to utilize.
WebAR does not require an app, delivering an AR experience through a web browser. This benefits both owners and users of the AR experience. For owners, it greatly reduces development costs since it doesn’t require an app to support it. For users, it streamlines the user experience by avoiding the need to download and open an app.
As a win-win for creators and users, WebAR has finally given Augmented Reality the traction its been trying to achieve for decades. And now that it’s more widely accessible, it has made leaps and bounds in just a few years and continues to exponentially grow. AR is now used in nearly every industry, from medical to gaming, print marketing to eCommerce, and so much more.
By looking at how AR is used today, we can better understand how it will be used in the metaverse in the future. The technology has been on such a fast-paced upward trend that it’s fairly easy to see where it’s headed: everywhere.
Augmented Reality is now regularly used in:
The use-cases are endless, but most fall under educating, entertaining, and promoting (or all of the above at the same time!). Entertaining doesn’t need much of an explanation, but let’s explore entertaining and promoting a little more.
Under education, for instance, AR is being used to teach and train everyone from preschoolers to surgeons, by overlaying digital elements in a real-world educational setting. School-age kids can watch a volcano erupt on their desk and medical students can practice complex procedures on virtual patients.
Education also extends to introducing and explaining products and services to customers, potential investors, and more.
Promotion is quite possibly the fastest growing application of AR. The retail, marketing and eCommerce worlds have grabbed onto AR and have been sprinting forward ever since WebAR made it accessible. In these cases, AR is often used to elevate advertisements, product packaging, and shopping experiences.
For instance, brands are using product packaging to deliver an AR experience or are bringing direct mail to life through AR. Customers simply point their device’s camera at the packaging or printed material and it can launch an AR video, game, or whatever experience they come up with.
When it comes to retail and eCommerce, AR is taking at-home shopping to a whole new level. Customers can now “Try On” or “Test Out” products from their home before making any purchase. From trying a new shade of lipstick to seeing how a couch will fit into your room, AR not only imprvoes buyer confidence but adds fun to the shopping experience.
When people think of the metaverse, they too often think of being immersed in an entirely digital world. They don’t realize that bringing digital elements into the real world is and will continue to be a huge part of the metaverse. Augmented Reality makes that possible.
Augmented Reality, therefore, will be used in the same way as it is today, but will continue to exponentially branch out into countless applications.
Being immersed in a digital world is still a big part of the metaverse, though, which finally brings us to Virtual Reality.
Virtual Reality (VR) is characterized by a virtual world that continues to exist even when you’re not immersed in it. Popular examples of this are Fortnite and World of Warcraft, where the digital worlds continue to exist even when you’re not playing. Essentially, it’s a digital world that exists outside of our reality.
The advancement of VR technology (like VR goggles) are making the experiences even more immersive, making it feel like you’re stepping into that digital realm.
Virtual Reality is still largely tied to gaming, but its applications have extended far beyond that. Like AR, VR is being used in more practical applications, like educating, training, and marketing.
Using similar examples as we did with AR, young students can “visit” Pompeii in the virtual world or medical students can “see” from a surgeon’s eyes as they observe in a virtual operating room instead of peering over their shoulder in a real one.
Customers can “try out” a car by exploring a virtual version or shop for art in a virtual gallery. Colleagues from around the world can meet in a virtual conference room. Basically, Virtual Reality can replicate any real or hypothetical situation or place.
People are perhaps most excited about the Virtual Reality side of the metaverse because it feeds into our gaming and entertainment cravings. Books and movies like Ready Player One tantalize us with a virtual world we can one day escape to.
Gaming and entertainment will always be a huge driving force of VR in the metaverse. However, the more practical applications we discussed will continue to expand and forge ahead.
But we have to remember that AR and VR are not isolated technologies, and can be combined to create a different reality: MR.
Mixed Reality (MR) is as the name suggests: a mix of AR and VR. With MR, you can experience a virtual world or virtual elements but still remain rooted in a real, physical space. This is made possible via occlusion. Occlusion means that digital objects can be visibly obscured by objects in the real environment.
For instance, through a VR headset, you can see a virtual robot roll under your real coffee table. This enables you to move around a physical space while still enjoying a more immersive Virtual Reality. Perhaps, it’s helpful to think of it as the most immersive version of Augmented Reality.
MR can also shift more towards Virtual Reality. For instance, you could explore a medieval house in a game while walking around your living room. If you’re headed straight for your coffee table, it’ll appear as a shadowed obstacle that you’ll need to avoid as you continue to game or explore. It basically gives you real-world awareness while still being immersed in a virtual world.
MR enables you interact with and manipulate both physical and virtual items and environments. It’s like keeping one foot (or hand) in the real world and the other in a virtual world. Or, you can seamlessly go back and forth between the two.
As AR and VR technology improves and becomes more interoperable, MR will grow as well.
Defining AR, VR, and MR has finally led us to the two letters that encompass them all: XR.
Extended Reality (XR) is an umbrella term that covers AR, VR, MR and whatever comes from those technologies working together. In some cases, XR is used interchangeably with MR but it is more accurately a parent term that includes MR.
Therefore, XR is broadly the immersive and interactive technologies that create real-and-virtual environments. Thus, XR is the technologies that are creating the metaverse.