The famous Ishmael of Melville’s Moby Dick struggles to share the true form and nature of whales with us:“For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must needs conclude that the great leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last. True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it with any very considerable degree of exactness. So there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like. And the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by going a-whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him.”1
What have whales to do with virtual reality?
Emerging technologies like virtual and emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) are described in the tech media with a confusing mishmash of categories that make it nearly impossible for readers to know the true nature of these modern technology leviathans. At Help Lightning, we use these categories to describe our own products. So, for the benefit of posterity, let us humbly take up Melville’s mantle and settle once and for all the taxonomy of the VR/AR family.
Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality. This one is perhaps the easiest to define.VR implies immersing the user into a completely fabricated world. The user perceives visual and audio stimuli that is almost entirely virtual–that is, fabricated–and generally does not represent the real world in which the user is immediately present. Think of movies like Avatar and Ready Player One, as well as products like Oculus Prime. AR implies taking visual or aural information from the real world, and sprinkling digital information within or over the base information streams. Think of the first-person view of the T1000 series in Terminator or the alien’s infrared, computer-enhanced perspective in Predator. Products representative of this category would include Google Glass, as well as products from companies such as Vuzix and RealWare. Some apps also qualify as AR. Classic examples would include Pokemon Go, IKEA Place, and Google Translate.
“Name It and Claim It” Mixed Reality. This category has primarily been defined and promoted by Microsoft to describe the experience for their Hololens. While properly in the larger AR genus, Mixed Reality distinguishes itself as a more complete experience than is possible with smart devices. The design ofHololens allows it to project information anywhere within the user’s field-of-view, rather than the tiny window through which a user peers when using a smartphone or tablet.
Beam Me Up, Merged Reality and Virtual Presence. We often use these categories to describe Help Lightning. Merged Reality generally refers to integrating the field of view of two different people, who may be separated by large distances. For example, using a merged reality system like Help Lightning, an observing surgeon in Mumbai could insert her hands or tools into the view of another surgeon, who is present in the operating room in London. The surgeon in Mumbai may say: “here, let me show you how to perform this procedure,” and then do so, directly in the field of view of the London surgeon. Or, as we like to say around here: “merged reality is the next best thing to teleportation from StarTrek.”
Into which categories should Help Lightning’s technology be placed? First, Help Lightning is the definitive example of merged reality and virtual presence for field service. Being first has its advantages. As Apple and Google release mobile devices with more powerful AR technology, we are introducing a new feature: telestration-on-field (ToF). With our ToF, users will be able to draw freehand or drop arrows directly on objects in their field of view, and those telestrations will stay attached to the object, no matter how you move the device. ToF will be visible to all participants on the Help Lightning call, increasing the clarity and efficiency of communication for our users.
Poor Ishmael risked life and limb to discover the taxonomy of Cetacea. How much easier would it have been for him had he access to Help Lighting! He might have assisted his comrades on the Pequot from the comfort of a warm inn in NewBedford over a pint and a steaming bowl of chowder.
Written by Neal Evans, CTO, Help Lightning ~ To experience Merged reality first-hand, visit Help Lightning and request a demonstration.
1. Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. London: Constable & Co., 1922;Bartleby.com, 2013. www.bartleby.com/91/55.html#14. June, 7, 2019.