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What is the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality?

In the context of immersive learning, you may come across different terms that, when not clearly defined, can be confusing. This is particularly the case for the difference between virtual and augmented reality, which deserves to be explained. Let's find out what these two notions correspond to in order to better understand what differentiates them.

What is virtual reality?

The difference between virtual and augmented reality is sometimes difficult to grasp because, basically, both are based on both the real and the virtual. It is essentially the proportions which are not the same.

The virtual reality consists in a virtual world modeled in 3D with which the user can interact. It is a simulation of an existing or totally imaginary place within which it is possible to move to explore all its aspects. One of the main advantages of virtual reality is that it makes it possible to propose a space similar in all points to the one that one wishes to recreate, but without any physical or geographical constraint. 

Indeed, it is equipped with a VR helmet (or possibly by means of a 2D screen like that of a computer or a tablet) that the user evolves within the virtual universe. He can therefore access the simulation from anywhere and at any time, alone or accompanied by other people. 

It is for this reason that virtual reality is the very basis of immersive learning. Thanks to it, learners can manipulate the tools they will be led to use in their professional activity, practice the application of certain instructions or procedures, discover the dangers to which certain actions can expose them... Despite a strikingly realistic user experience, virtual reality implies the total absence of risks. It makes it possible to "live" extreme situations that it would be completely irresponsible to replicate in the field (fires, accidents, etc.).

What is augmented reality?

The difference between virtual and augmented reality is difficult to define because both concepts draw on reality. In the case of augmented reality, however, it is the real world that serves as the medium for the information. To be able to use augmented reality, one must evolve within a real physical space and look at tangible objects that have an existence outside of their "virtual augmentation".

It is only this augmentation that is concerned by the simulation, and not the environment itself as is the case for virtual reality. In practice, the user can interact with 2D or 3D information that appears as an overlay of reality. It is thus a question of looking at the world through a dedicated device. Helmets and glasses make the experience astonishingly natural, but you can also use a smartphone, a tablet or even the windscreen of a vehicle, etc. These technologies allow us to superimpose images, text, animations, etc. on the world around us, like a filter. The user looks at the world through a device that displays relevant information.

The applications are multiple, since augmented reality brings precision to any environment.

What is the real difference between virtual and augmented reality?

The difference between virtual and augmented reality is that the first is a "copy" of reality with possible additions, while the second is not a reproduction. Augmented reality is the reality we all know, to which interactive information is added.

Concerning the applications, many sectors are in the process of being metamorphosed thanks to virtual reality. Video games, of course, are the first to be interested, recently joined by education, especially in gamified version as is the case with immersive learning. The medical and military fields are also making increasing use of them.

Augmented reality concerns even wider sectors, including those previously mentioned. The automotive industry is very interested in it, as well as the aerospace and leisure industries. The marketing world is not left behind either and is patiently waiting for the massive adoption of compatible technologies by consumers.

Of course, mixed possibilities are also possible. For example, we can imagine interactive virtual characters to accompany visitors to a number of places (company premises, museums, etc.). Another perspective is the visualization of a completed building on a site still under construction, for example.

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