AR, VR, MR, and Tango
Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality, (VR) and
mixed reality (MR) are getting a lot of attention these days. New uses
of these technologies -- both practical and fun -- emerge each year. Among the
latest AR-enabled devices are smartphones that use platforms such as Google's
Tango or ARCore to sense their surroundings and enhance the camera view with an
array of useful or entertaining features.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality (AR) is a technology
that enriches the real world with digital information and media. It does this --
in real time -- by overlaying 3D models, videos or other data with the camera
view of a smartphone, tablet, PC, or other connected device.
There are three main categories of augmented reality: viewers, browsers, and
games. Each form of AR involves the real-time integration of digital information
with live video or the user's environment.
Augmented reality can be used on all screens and connected devices, including PCs
and connected TVs with webcams, and there are hundreds of apps that utilize AR.
On smartphones and tablets, it's been said that AR feels like a "magic window."
On connected glasses and lenses, some say that AR feels like being a character
in a movie.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life
environment or situation. It immerses the user by making them feel as if they
are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand, primarily by stimulating their
vision and hearing.
VR is typically achieved by wearing a VR-equipped headset and is used
prominently in two different ways:
- To create and enhance an imaginary reality for gaming, entertainment, and
play (such as video and computer games or 3D movies). Example: Games
utilizing head-mounted displays.
- To enhance training for real life environments by creating a simulation of
actual events where people can practice beforehand. Example: Flight
simulators for pilots.
Virtual reality is possible through a coding language known as VRML (Virtual
Reality Modeling Language). VRML can be used to create a series of images and
specify the types of interactions that are possible for them.
What is Mixed Reality?
Mixed reality (MR) combines real world imagery with virtual/augmented reality
enhancements to create new virtualized environments where real people and
objects can co-exist with digital ones. Like VR, MR is typically presented using
immersive technology such as a headset to virtually surround the user with the
merged actual/digital environment and allow them to interact with it.
MR is sometimes called hybrid reality. The earliest MR implementations were
largely for entertainment purposes, such as to position a game player within the
digital game environment. More practical uses of MR are being developed for use
in retail (allowing buyers to examine and select products from virtual store
shelves), education (advanced learning scenarios), and industry (factory
simulations, remote team building, etc.).
What is the Difference Between AR, VR and MR?
The difference between these technologies can be summed up this way:
- VR offers a digital recreation of a real life setting
- AR delivers virtual elements as an overlay or enhancement to the real world.
- MR delivers both virtual and augmented elements in a combined real-digital
AR enhances experiences by adding virtual components such as digital images,
graphics, or sensations as a new layer of interaction with the real world. In
contrast, VR creates its own reality that is completely computer generated and
driven. MR is a mix of both.
Virtual reality is usually delivered to the user through a head-mounted or
hand-held controller. This equipment connects users to the virtual environment
and allows them to control and navigate their actions in a way that's meant to
simulate the real world.
Augmented reality is finding increasing use in mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets, where it can change how the
real world and computer-generated digital images and graphics intersect and
What is Tango?
The Tango platform relies on a smartphone's own hardware -- including new depth
and motion-sensing cameras -- to accurately sense the user's immediate
surroundings and enable the addition of pertinent augmented reality content or
other enhancements. AR content enabled by Tango could include everything from
room measurements and directional arrows to complex game environments or
interior design settings.
Tango was developed by a special team at Google, which was seeking new ways to
make devices location-aware in every setting (in other words, without relying on
GPS). The resulting hardware/software solution combines new depth perception and
motion sensing capabilities with "area learning" programs that create and
maintain rich data maps of the nearby physical space.
Lenovo released the world's first commercial Tango-equipped smartphone, the Lenovo
Phab 2 Pro with a 6.4 inch screen and 64 GB internal storage. At the
time, new Phab 2 Pro owners were encouraged to test the device's Tango-enabled
features at select Lowe's Home Improvement stores, where a company-developed app
could display visual AR-based approximations of home improvement projects or
draw virtual arrowed paths to lead users to find particular products on specific
In 2018, Google announced it had ceased further development Tango in favor of its
new ARCore platform. Like Tango, ARCore seeks to enable enhanced content
overlays (now often called "mixed reality" to recognize the many types of
reality enhancements that are possible today), but without requiring specialized