Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two of the hottest growing techs in the industry. Though many of us seem to use the terms interchangeably, they’re not the same at all.

AR is one of the most up-and-coming technologies out there. Its uses range from medical science to military applications, not to mention gaming.

Augmented reality also abounds with career opportunities. Lots of companies want a piece of the pie, and they’re seeking AR developers, programmers, designers, and more. AR and VR were once the stuff of science fiction. Now we’re seeing more and more of it, and its poised to become the next big thing in tech.  So what’s the difference between AR and VR? First, let’s define “virtual reality” and “augmented reality.”

What’s Virtual Reality?

VR offers users a wholly immersive experience through a VR device like goggles fitted with headphones. The user interacts with computer-generated environments and worlds, but it’s not just for fun and games. As the BBC reports, VR tech can help people train, prepare for real-life situations. Or, it can help us see things from a different perspective. Here are just a few applications for virtual reality.

  • Med school students can learn how to perform complex, life-saving operations.
  • Autistic kids’ families and specialists can experience the sensory overload they cope with every day.
  • People with severe phobias can learn to cope with their fears through safe exposure.
  • School children can learn in new and more engaging ways.

Virtual reality’s also great for demonstrations and walk-throughs.

Parsons Paris MFADT Exhibit 2017-25

What Is Augmented Reality?

AR layers digital elements over the world around us to inform and enhance our experience. Unlike with VR, it’s easy to tell AR elements apart from our surroundings These apps run on smartphones, glasses, and other AR devices and provide helpful information. Among the most useful are “heads up devices” that display data on our device while we focus on the task at hand.

For starters, your GPS could display directions or places to eat on your windshield. When you’re driving through an unfamiliar area, that can be a huge help.

Examples of Augmented Reality in Use Today

Even though the term, “augmented reality” is new to many of us, it’s already all around us. Pokémon Go‘s likely the most well-known recent AR app out there today. As you can see, the player’s neighborhood looks totally normal … Except for the Pokéball, Pokémon, and its stats.

But do you know those wacky Snapchat filters are also a form of augmented reality?

But aside from all the fun and games, AR has some serious uses.

  • Schools: The George Lucas Education Foundation’s website, Edutopia says AR brings “new dimensions” to learning. As teachers and students transform schools into interactive spaces, smartphones and tablets have a new role in the classroom.
  • Industry and Sciences: AR can be a powerful tool for training, research, and development in many fields. From the doctor’s office to the factory floor, augmented reality is everywhere. When we can get the information we need without having to look away from what we’re doing, we’re safer and more productive.
  • Safety professionals and the military: all have multiple uses for AR. First responders can practice dangerous maneuvers without risking life and limb. This powerful tool can provide real-time data and feedback for combat training, weapons handling, driving emergency vehicles, and more. In the photo below, a woman learning CPR can see if her technique would work on a real human.
PennImmersive Techs Open House

AR developers create lots of useful programs, but sometimes they just want to have fun.

The Future of Augmented Reality

The future of AR seems limitless, as the cost of devices drops within more people’s reach. As hardware gets smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, AR will play a bigger role in our lives. Imagine panning your phone across the room at a meeting to display people’s names. That’s right. You’ll never have to worry about forgetting a name again. No wonder AR’s becoming one of the most in-demand fields. Software companies are seeking skilled people to build the next great app. Here are just a few of the hot job prospects available today:

  • AR Developer: AR developers create the 3D imagery for the overlays. Waracle explains this requires a mix of skills, like 3D modeling, UI (user interface) design, and programming apps for mobile.
  • Software Programmers: One AR developer alone can’t create an AR app. He or she just builds the front end (what the user sees). Others need to program the back end. Quora users in the field suggest learning the most common programming languages for Android and iOS, like C++, and Mono C#.
  • Designers: AR designers create the overall look and feel of the apps. They need drawing, 3D modeling, graphic design, and user interface (UI)/User Experience (UE) design skills.

Analysts and engineers will also be in high demand. Schools are now starting to offer courses for this career path.

Top 10 Augmented Reality Companies

AR’s still fairly new, yet ThinkMobile‘s already picked out the top players for 2017. Need AR glasses with six sensors, a measurement unit and a camera? Microsoft’s got that in the works. Or maybe you’d prefer Sony’s because it has GPS. Gaming outfits like Nintendo and Niantic — who brought us Pokémon Go — also made the list. But you’ll also see some names you haven’t heard of. Wikitude’s creating a browser that’s optimized for AR. Meanwhile, Layar seeks to “bring print to life” with enhancements for magazines, milk cartons, juice boxes, and more.

  1. Vuforia: They’re the most popular system development kit (SDK) for AR developers.
  2. Apple and ARKit: Another SDK, but this one’s for the iOS community.
  3. Microsoft: The software giant’s getting in on the action with their AR glasses and more.
  4. Sony: The electronics and entertainment moguls offer SmartEyeglass and an SDK for mobile apps.
  5. Nintendo: They’ve got an AR games pack with 15 offerings for their Nintendo DS.
  6. Niantic: “The world around you is not what it seems.” Ingress, their Pokémon followup, brings players together at live events.
  7. Wikitude: They’ve got their AR browser, plus a robust SDK they claim has spawned over 20,000 apps.
  8. Layar: When you scan a flyer, poster, or other printed content, videos, animations, and other digital content displays.
  9. Inde: They specialize in big screens like movies, billboards, and more.
  10. Augment: Their service connects retailers with online shoppers and displays 3D AR versions of their products.
  11. Gravity Jack: These innovators create unique AR and VR apps and experiences for companies around the world.

Top 10 Virtual Reality Companies

unBound Digital - Digital Realities Showcase reports there are now nearly 700 virtual reality startups worldwide. Some companies focus on specialty products like virtual limbs to treat amputees’ pain. Others are paving the way for self-driving cars, 3-D immersive cameras, drone technologies, and wearable tech. As the market develops, newcomers may elbow today’s top players aside. But for now, Datamation lists the top VR companies to watch. Here are their top ten:

  1. Facebook/Oculus VR
  2. Google
  3. Microsoft HoloLens
  4. HTC Vive
  5. Samsung Gear VR
  6. WorldViz
  7. Bricks & Goggles
  8. Marxent Labs
  9. Unity Technologies
  10. Snap

As we now can’t imagine life without our smartphones, we’ll one day wonder what we did without AR and VR.

Featured image: CC By 2.0 Brother UK via Flickr.


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