In recent years, we have seen a rise in the number of immersive applications, enabling people to participate in a virtual world, yet providing realistic experience to the participants.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are exciting technologies, and, according to Digi-Capital, the combined value of both AR/VR will hit an astonishing US$150 billion by 2020. This article hopes to give an overview of what VR and AR are all about and how we can use these technologies not only to enhance our social lives but enhance and promote education, especially in engineering in Namibia. Virtual Reality can be defined as the use of computer-generated simulation, usually based on 3D graphics to create an artificial environment. Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR allows users to see and experience everything about a particular place without going there. For example, one can explore and experience Paris or Rome from the comfort of their home without having to be there physically. This immersive nature of VR has the potential to change industries. Augmented Reality, on the other side, refers to the integration of digital information (in most cases) images onto real world surroundings with the aim to give the user a sense of the reality or virtual reality. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally simulated environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.
There are technical differences between AR and VR, in that VR is closed and fully immersive, while AR is open and partly immersive, you can see through and around it. VR puts users inside virtual worlds, immersing them, while AR puts virtual things into users’ real worlds, enhancing them. The recent technological advancements have made these technologies more accessible and available, via the smartphone. Presenting an endless number of applications that can developed for entertainment, social life and even to enhance learning. VR and AR technologies have the potential to become the next big thing in computing, promising to disrupt many industries and give consumers more value. It is exciting to see all major technological multi-nationals such as Facebook, Google, Samsung and Microsoft all developing their own VR and AR handset devices. Testimony to this growing global interest in VR is the US$2 billion acquisition of Oculus by Facebook. Oculus is a virtual reality handset that completely immerses you inside virtual worlds. With the Oculus rift, Facebook hopes to take virtual reality to the social media. The potential of VR and AR does not only end with entertainment, but it is believed by many researchers that VR and AR can have a tremendous impact on education because of its ability to take students/learners to places that are otherwise inaccessible, such as the surface of Mars, the inside of an operating reactor, or between the plates of a capacitor.
Another strong benefit is that VR has the potential to reach students who have alternate methods of learning, particularly those who are visual, active, and universal learners. Despite the successes of VR and AR, these technologies are not perfect; they still face many issues, ranging from bad ergonomics to incompatibility issues. However, most of these issues are being fixed and more is being done to ensure that VR provides more natural ways to enable users to interact within virtual environments. Other issues facing these technologies are more soft issues, relating to human behaviour. Nevertheless, strong evidence suggests that AR and VR can play a crucial role to improve learning, especially in teaching engineering and sciences in Namibia. However, in order for Namibia, as a country, to harness value from VR and AR, it is important for researchers to comprehensively study and investigate how these technologies can be applied to create new applications that encourage as well as enhance learning in areas such as Mathematics. In pursuit of these kinds of solutions, I am currently investigating how we can apply virtual reality to develop an application that can be used to provide basic computer science education for all. Finally, it is important for private sector with their financial muscles to get more involved, fund research and development of solutions that can improve the livelihood of our people.
*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc. Computer Science