Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Realities. What are they and what are they for?

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Realities. What are they and what are they for?

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We will explain the differences between these three closely related technologies that can be used in the architecture, engineering and construction sector

Research into extended realities (Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality) began several decades ago. However, it was not until last year that they began to have a direct impact on consumers. In global figures, investment in these technologies reached 14,400 billion euros by the end of 2019 and is predicted to increase tenfold by 2023.

At BIMserver.center, an open global platform for collaboration in the cloud for architecture, engineering and construction projects using open standard formats, we have also supported the development of these disruptive technologies in order to offer our users and clients the best tools for carrying out their construction projects with greater security and efficiency.

Therefore, and being aware that there are still some doubts about the differences between Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Realities, we are going to briefly explain the features of each of them and their differences.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual Reality is the technology that allows us to replace our environment with another digitally generated one. To be able to create this new environment, Virtual Reality usually needs virtual reality glasses in order to be able to transport us to a new place and live all kinds of experiences that happen as if in real life. This technology is used to create worlds, environments and realities independent of the external world with which we can interact. 

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality is the technology that allows us to superimpose layers of information onto the physical world in which we live. The main difference with VR is that it does not create a new environment independent of reality, but rather it creates virtual content that is applied to the real world. To use Augmented Reality, all that is needed is a smart phone with a camera or a tablet and an AR application. Applied to the construction sector, Augmented Reality offers a series of benefits, such as improving communication between agents, speeding up processes, saving costs, reducing errors and improving productivity.

Mixed Reality (MR)

On the other hand, Mixed Reality is a more complex technology than the previous two and can be defined as a hybrid between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Specifically, in Mixed Reality the physical world is merged with the digital world. To do this, it offers the user a virtual world that has been recreated over the real world, which allows us to interact with the former without completely escaping from the latter. For example, any virtual object placed in a physical environment will receive information about the physical space and its context, which means that factors such as lighting have an influence on our perception of virtual objects.

These three technologies are intended to coexist and complement each other because they offer a different experience that can be attractive to different users and meet different needs depending on the sector in which they are applied. In this regard, the X-ray of Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality in Spain, produced by the Fundación Telefónica, outlines by economic sector the presence of these technologies in Spain:

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