What’s the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality

Virtual reality and augmented reality are two of the most important technologies of the last decade. Here's what they are and how they differ

Once upon a time there were strange objects, shaped like diving masks (but bigger and heavier), that were described as the gateway to a new, computer-built world. They were the visors for virtual reality, we were at the turn of two millennia and shortly after a lot of people fell in love with Second Life.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and many promises of virtual reality have fallen on deaf ears. But, in the meantime, another reality has arrived: augmented reality. Thanks also to the widespread diffusion of mobile devices, and the increase in their power, today there are already many applications based on augmented reality, mostly for recreational purposes, and a little less for virtual reality, which has carved out a role in very specific niches. But what is the difference between virtual and augmented reality?

Virtual reality: what is it and what is it for

Virtual reality means an environment (from a room to an entire world) that does not exist and is completely computer generated. The user can interact with this world and his choices influence and modify the virtual environment. With the above visors the user is completely estranged from the real world, which does not happen when interacting with virtual reality through a normal screen (PC, smartphone etc etc). Today virtual reality is used in science and medicine, to simulate the computer form of atoms, molecules or human organs. But also in aircraft simulators, driving, military and architectural design.

Augmented reality: what is it and what is it for

Augmented reality is a layer that is added to physical reality. This means that the real environment and the computer-generated environment do not exclude each other, but complement each other. This is why augmented reality is usually enjoyed through mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. The classic example of augmented reality is in museums: the user frames a work of art with his smartphone, which appears on the screen in its original version. Another use of augmented reality is for information purposes: we frame something and receive information about it. With Google Maps, for example, we can frame a road and see large arrows on the screen that show us the way to our destination. Even the dozens of apps that superimpose filters on our faces should be considered augmented reality.