What’s the difference between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)?

What’s the difference between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” a new column from MxD.

Every week, Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to debfromqa@mxdusa.org

Dear Deb: What’s the difference between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)?

Whenever I bring up augmented reality or virtual reality to my colleagues, they react in one of two ways: 1) With wonder and excitement for its futuristic potential, or 2) Total disinterest, because they think it’s for kids who want to play video games. 

In either case, they don’t realize that AR, at least, is being used right now in manufacturing for job training and quality control. 

Let’s look at AR and VR from a high-level view. 

Augmented reality adds a digital dimension to your physical space. Let’s say you’re shopping for a new sofa in your living room. An online furniture store may offer an AR function where you can look at your living room through a smartphone camera, and the sofa you’re thinking of buying is superimposed onto the screen as if it were already there. 

Virtual reality is a far more immersive experience. Rather than building upon your physical reality, VR takes you into its own world, typically through a headset like an Oculus or Sony PlayStation VR. 

In manufacturing, you might put on a VR headset and inspect a “500-pound engine” — pick up the pieces, move it around, even stick your head inside the engine to watch the fan belts turn.

Because VR is literally and figuratively a 360-degree experience, creating that world is much more labor-intensive (read: expensive). If you’re a mom-and-pop facility, I’m willing to bet you’re more likely to use augmented reality instead. So let’s focus on that.

Augmented reality is a far more accessible technology. Most phones and tablets today have that capability built in. So what can AR do for you? Take that sofa example above. Maybe you’re wondering what a new piece of equipment might look like on your shop floor. AR can show you without costing you too much time or effort. And AR on tablets are low-cost options for training new employees or quality assurance.

Here’s another way AR could help your facility today: Say you’re working on wire harnessing, where you’re trying to connect a bunch of wires along a product. It’s complicated, and you’re constantly referring to a dusty old manual.

With an AR headset, you’d be able to view exactly where the connection points need to go, and your screen flashes an error if a part is headed for the wrong place. Just think of the time and hassle this would save! Your eyes wouldn’t be darting back and forth between that thick manual and the machine, and you wouldn’t have to hold the heavy thing.  

There are a lot of ways augmented reality can help your facility; this 475-word column hasn’t even scratched the surface. But if you want to learn more (and you should), our friends at Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance have a super useful website that might articulate how AR could improve your business. 

Assuring quality,

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ‘em to debfromqa@mxdusa.org and she’ll answer as soon she’s done with her shift.