Immersive technologies are also called augmented reality technologies. Their list includes virtual and augmented reality as well as 360° video. They provide the effect of full or partial presence in an alternative space and thus change the user experience in completely different spheres. In this post we will talk about the level of these technologies today, how they are implemented and used for business.

To begin with, we will define the terms and abbreviations that you can see in reports, articles and presentations:

Immersive – technologies of full or partial immersion in the virtual world or various types of mixing of real and virtual reality.

RR (real reality) – literally “real reality” or objective reality in which we are and which we perceive by the senses. It is noteworthy that real reality has to be defined. But you have to understand what we mix virtual reality with.

VR (virtual reality) – virtual reality is a fully modeled reality with the use of modern technologies. It’s not just 3D or 360 scenes, it’s also sound, tactile sensations and even smells. Learn more about this a little bit later.

AR (augmented reality) – augmented reality – should be translated more as “augmented”. That is we add elements of virtual, modeled reality to our reality (RR).

MR (mixed reality) – mixed reality is a term that comes from running Windows Mixed Reality. On the one hand, the term itself makes it possible, in my opinion, to get away from the competition. On the other hand, it speaks about a particular type of device and how reality is mixed. Although it is basically a VR with some RR add-ons. Or AR with Hololens.

XR (extended reality) is a common name for AR and VR technologies.

360 Photos, Videos – content that consists of one 360° or multiple stitched photos and videos. 360° broadcasts are also common.

Now let’s analyze in detail what is hidden under these abbreviations.

360° video

How it’s implemented. 360° cameras shoot the surrounding area, and then the resulting video clips are stitched together in special programs. There are also seamless solutions, but they are more cost effective for business. Sometimes additional graphics are added to the already finished video.

Now also widespread “panoramic” online broadcasts. When you have multiple panoramic viewpoints, just install the equipment and start shooting. But this format has quite high hardware requirements, and also requires careful adjustment of the sound.

Where it’s used. This technology is widely used when showing real estate. Sophisticated search in Google gives a lot of B2B-agencies that make virtual tours for realtors and developers: 360 Real Estate, 360walkthruproperty, Forj and others.

Panoramic videos are also used in media.  In addition to being posted online, such immersive materials are also on display at the permanent exhibition of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna.

Augmented reality

Like many innovative technologies, augmented reality appeared in the middle of the last century for military developments. It was planned and then successfully started to be used to project important instrument readings onto the helmet glass or windshield of a fighter to reduce the time it takes to obtain information and increase the reaction rate of pilots.

Today, several areas of augmented reality are developing. The most common is AR in a smartphone. Apple has been developing its AR kit for several years now. Today there are more than 5 billion smartphones in the world, and potentially this is a very large coverage for products with AR. A vivid example of success is the game Pokemon Go, which has thundered the world. There are marketing projects in which, for example, coins are scattered in AR, and the user has to search for and collect them to get a discount. Coins are scattered in such a way that the user comes to the doorstep of the store. Also worth remembering is the recently launched in the U.S. project Google Street, which helps with navigation. Simpler scenarios are also in demand: for example, in 2017 Positive Technologies released a merchandise – a calendar and diary, on which the pictures came to life when you hover the phone.

Other Augmented Reality devices are augmented reality glasses. Google Glass is not yet a complete project. Hololens, Microsoft’s project is an expensive solution, but its advantage is that it is immediately integrated with the company’s ecosystem. Besides, there are many other Augmented Reality Glasses on the market – from Ericsson, Huawei and many other large companies and startups.

Individual solutions are implemented for the industry through a subscription model, which includes consulting and equipment repair.

How it is implemented. The projection of a virtual object into the real world can be carried out using a phone. Often used tags, projection on the glass of a car, plane, glasses – for example, wearing Microsoft Hololens glasses. If you use the technology of virtual reality on the street, you need to pay special attention to lighting, because when the light is too bright AR-objects may look dull. In general, although it is not the most perfect technology, even it allows you to make entertainment applications.

Where it’s used. Holograms, superimposing live images on TV channels, the use of interactive monitors – these are the embodiments of AR, which seem to us already familiar. However, there are more unexpected examples of the use of technology.

For example, Pepsi Max used AR technology to create its promotional video. The company installed special augmented reality monitors at one of its London stops and filmed the reaction of casual passers-by.

As for AR wearing glasses, this sphere is still less developed, because the current models are quite bulky and expensive. But every year glasses are getting lighter and prettier. Another area of AR is projection on contact lenses. Its disadvantage so far is that you can see a grid on the lens. But at the same time, this method has many advantages.

Virtual reality.

How it’s implemented. Virtual reality is above all a visual and sound content. Sound in this case is of key importance: it complements virtuality and creates the effect of presence in an unreal location by simulating the reflection and direction of sound waves.

Getting into an alternative, virtual reality can, for example, by wearing special glasses. By dividing the picture in front of your eyes into two parts, they create a stereoscopic effect. If there is tracking for body positions, the virtual space will also take into account head and trunk movements.

There are other ways to get into virtual reality:

A smartphone with a special VR application, which is inserted into a special case with lenses. The easiest solution is the Google Cardboard. If you own a Samsung Galaxy device, you can buy Gear VR – an advanced case with gyroscopes and controls.
Tracking systems. Allows you to move a user to a virtual space. Now we are also developing costumes that convey feelings from virtual reality – for example, fragrances – but so far this is an expensive and not very perfect product.
Special gloves instead of the usual joystick. This element is necessary for human hands to interact naturally with the virtual world. Now gloves are inferior to joysticks in quality of calibration, but their quality is growing.
Mobile VR helmets with built-in monitors (HTC Vive, Oculus Go and others). Such devices are more optimized to work in VR compared to smartphone cases, they have high-quality graphics, integrated sound and a joystick for control.
Helmets “heavy VR” (like Oculus Rift). The processed graphics are transmitted to the helmet via wires from a gaming computer with a powerful graphics card. The need to communicate with the PC creates limitations to use, but helmet heavy VR has better graphics and richer potential user experience. Tracking cameras capture the position of the joystick and the position of the person, immersing him in virtual reality more realistic. These helmets also come with controllers.

Almost all major phone and laptop manufacturers have released their virtual reality helmets: HTC, Lenovo, Xiaomi, Samsung, Oculus and others have them. Some are trying to create an ecosystem: for example, HP is promoting a line of notebooks and helmets with manipulators and external tracking.

For such solutions use a different name – mixed reality. In fact, it’s more of a marketing name that came with the release of Windows Mixed Reality, an application development platform. As a matter of fact it is the designer with the 3D models, the certain set of asset in the complete set. From the point of view of quality of created product, Windows solution is much weaker, than engines Unreal Engine and Unity. Unlike the Windows Mixed Reality platform, they not only have the ability to develop and create virtual objects, work with textures and light, but also create a certain business logic.

Where it is used. An interesting project in the field of VR was made by IKEA. The company offered its customers to wear special glasses and find themselves in the virtual kitchen. Here, with the help of a joystick, they could read a recipe book, make meatballs, and send food for recycling.

The German carrier Deutsche Bahn is also experimenting with virtual reality. For four years now, the company has been offering its potential employees to wear VR glasses and demonstrate their ability to simulate a real working day.

Overall trends

Finally, I will try to summarize the experience of the industry and assume what will happen next. As we strive for a realistic image, we will face the limitations of graphics and information processing speed. Hybrid systems involving clouds may be the way out. In this case, the current “cartoon” image still allows you to do “immersive” content, as for the brain is enough. Try to walk on the VR board over the VR space.

The penetration of VR helmets is small now, so we create VR installations in our offices and invite consumers there. It is clear that this approach has a perspective for selling expensive and complex products – real estate, yachts, cars, sightseeing tours. The key here is the transition from adhoc solutions, i.e. applications that implement a particular case, to entire XR platforms, which will allow buyers and sellers to find each other.

In the field of immersion technology is not yet visible sharp monetization, players act as if to the touch. The reason is that not many people use the augmented reality in their daily lives. To try them, you must at least download an additional application – this makes it harder for the end user to get the technology.

In all these developments there is no significant gamification, on the contrary – there is a desire for realism. Creating tools for easy interaction is like the main task for developers, content development is now secondary to UX/UI development. The resolution of the picture is still low and it is not photorealistic, so the technology has somewhere to grow and develop. The improvement of user experience is associated with the performance of processors, with the speed of data transfer and processing.