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Standard Terminology: what are you talking about?

Standard-Terminology-what-are-you-talking-about-

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Have you ever listened to someone talking about a topic but you are thinking quietly “what are you talking about?” This may happen when you are searching for a subject you need information about, but when you read the information, you find out that it is something completely irrelevant. Personally, I had this struggle during my literature review of my PhD. For example, action, behaviour, task and other relevant terms in the field were consistently used interchangeably in the literature. Today, you can see the same issue arising in the field of immersive technologies. In this post I will try to present simplified definitions of the three main terms used to describe the new realities created with the help of immersive technologies: Virtual, Augmented and Mixed realities.

I would say it is safe to say the terms virtual and augmented realities (VR/AR) and the technologies are clearly defined and communicated in both technical and descriptive sense. For those of you who are reading about these technologies for the first time, I will try to present very simplified definitions. Virtual reality is a computer generated environment, objects and people that you can explore with the use of different devices. The simplest device is a VR headset powered by your mobile phone (e.g. Google cardboard, Google Daydream, Samsung VR, etc.). If you like a more immersive experience, you can buy a head mount VR headset that uses a powerful computer to work (e.g. HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR). Last but not least is the standalone VR headset that does not need a mobile phone or a computer to power it, which is still to come in the near future.

Figure 1. Different virtual reality headset types

This is while the augmented reality, mobile or computer-powered, only embeds computer generated objects and people into the real world environment. For example, imagine you can put a little 3D animated dinosaur on your kitchen table, or a pumping heart on the classroom’s desk.

So far, these definitions are clear, and there is a consensus in the use of terminology. Perhaps the term mixed reality is the most interchangeably used term in this field. A lot of people refer to the AR as mixed reality because well it is a mix of reality and virtuality. However, in my opinion, the mixed reality is when you can recognise the real environment in addition to objects and people, and accordingly add virtual objects, virtual overlay environment, and virtual representation of people to it.

Figure 2: Virtual reality example
Figure 3. Google Tango Augmented reality example
Figure 4. Mixed reality example by Microsoft

What is important, especially for those of us who are involved in research, is to agree upon standard terminology and present clear definitions. We should remind ourselves that we are laying the foundations of the future in the immersive technologies field. I would not like to see a young student reviewing the literature ten years from now and thinking “what was wrong with those people? Why couldn’t they come up with a precise definition so that i don’t need to compare all these different definitions now?”

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