AR and VR are rapidly emerging fields, with applications within the gaming industry, as well as in the health, education, and development sectors.
What is augmented reality? The technology allows users to view the real-world environment with augmented (added) elements, generated by digital devices. One famous example in recent years was Pokemon Go, a game for mobile devices in which players chase imaginary digital creatures (visible on their mobile phones) around physical locations.
What is virtual reality? VR goes a step forward, and replaces the real world entirely with a simulated environment, created through digitally-generated images, sounds, and even touch and smell. Using special equipment, such as a custom headset, the user can explore a simulated world or simulate experiences such as flying or skydiving.
What are the main applications of augmented and virtual reality? In architecture and engineering, AR and VR allow architects to see their building plans come to life before being built. In the business sector, these technologies allow products to be previewed or customised, thus improving productivity and offering new marketing possibilities.
In health, AR can provide surgeons with additional information when operating on a patient, such as heartbeat and blood pressure monitoring and virtual x-rays. By using AR, education can be made more interactive and fun, bringing abstract concepts to life. VR can create educational environments that are otherwise inaccessible in real-life. It can also provide a framework for students to develop skills without the real-world consequences of failing (e.g. virtual flight simulators, military and medical training).
What are the policy issues associated with AR and VR? Beyond their potential, these technologies also come with challenges. Pokemon Go, for example, generated concerns around a wide range of issues, such as public safety, cybersecurity, and privacy and data protection.
Privacy issues are common across other AR applications: Since they often track movements and data, massive amounts of data are generated about the whereabouts of users. On the economic side, AR can create new business models, raising questions about taxation, jurisdiction, and customer protection.
With VR, the main concerns are health and safety. When people are exposed to VR environments for extensive periods of time, there could be negative consequences for their physical health (such as motion sickness and disorientation) as well as their mental health (such as addiction and interpersonal communication).