What is Artificial Reality? Your Guide to AR, VR, and Mixed Reality

Introduction to Artificial Reality

Artificial reality refers collectively to augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies that blend digital content with the real world to create immersive synthetic environments and enhance our perceptions of reality. These technologies are empowering radical new applications for entertainment, training, simulation, healthcare, engineering, and more.

An AI genrated image showing Artificial Reality

Technologies Enabling Artificial Reality

There are three core categories of artificial reality technologies:

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR overlays digital information and virtual objects onto our views of the real world through devices like smartphones and AR glasses or contacts. AR does not replace reality but enhances it with supplementary contextual data.

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR generates a fully artificial and simulated environment that users perceive and engage with, most commonly through a VR headset with 360-degree visuals and spatial audio. VR can transport users to digital worlds completely separate from physical reality.

Mixed Reality (MR)

As an in-between technology blending both physical and digital realities, MR integrates virtual and augmented realities to allow synthetic content to interact with the environments around users. This integration enables a world where real and virtual dynamically communicate and influence each other.

Key Components of Artificial Reality Systems

To create the illusions of alternative or enhanced realities, artificial reality systems are composed of three core components working in conjunction:

Visual Components

The visual aspects are what users predominantly perceive as AR, VR, or MR environments. Key visual technologies include head-mounted displays, 360-degree cameras, and graphical interfaces and rendering tools to develop environments and assets.

Audio Components

Spatial audio technologies that simulate surround sound and acoustic environments are equally vital in providing sensory depth and cues that reinforce immersion within artificial realities. Binaural audio and auralization techniques enable this by processing sound waves to mimic auditory experiences.

Haptic Components

Emerging haptic technologies, particularly gloves and suits with tactile feedback actuators, better simulate sensations of touch and interaction within AR/VR and link the experiences more intimately to our senses of the real, physical world for heightened realism.

Use Cases and Applications

Artificial reality empowers innovative applications across many sectors:


From immersive theater performances and concerts to interactive theme park rides, artificial reality delivers next-generation entertainment built around digital fantasy worlds we can inhabit within mediums like VR narrative games and multimedia experiences.

Education and Training

VR corporate training and even full digital university campuses provide adaptable environments where students can deeply engage educational content through roleplaying occupational scenarios, manipulating objects difficult to access physically, visualizing processes at micro and macro levels simultaneously with AR, and more.


Doctors can leverage AR during complex surgery by overlaying vital anatomical data onto patients in real time. VR therapy can also help patients overcome anxieties, PTSD triggers, and chronic conditions through customized and controlled exposure treatment programs.

Engineering and Design

AR allows engineers and architects to rapidly iterate 3D models, test prototypes, and inspect construction plans in context onsite using only mobile devices. This yields more practical feedback to perfect and troubleshoot designs.


The military utilizes VR combat simulations replicating scenarios that are too dangerous, expensive, or impractical to create physically to rigorously and realistically train personnel for high-risk missions and emergency response.

Marketing and Advertising

AR enables creative brand activations and ad campaigns with digital content about products and services embedded in the world around consumers – effectively bridging the gap between the virtual and material by merging them using location-based triggers.

Benefits and Advantages of Artificial Reality

Artificial reality delivers transformational impacts across many facets of society and human life by:

Immersive Experiences

Unlike any previous mediums, these technologies enable forming visceral connections to digital environments by completely encompassing our sight, hearing, touch, and movement to foster an innate sense of existing inside an alternate reality – leading to unparalleled engagement.

Increased Accessibility

AR and VR allow experiencing simulations of scenarios that may be impossible, far too risky, or resource-intensive to access physically, democratizing availability. Traveling to Mars or performing open heart surgery becomes available to anyone.

Enhanced Visualization

Abstract data, processes, and ideas unreadable to humans can be brought to life in intuitive ways leveraging AR/VR’s powers of dimensional representation and simplification. This amplified clarity yields insights impossible with text or 2D images alone.

Improved Learning and Skills Development

The combination of immersion, increased accessibility, and enhanced visualization catalyzes efficient and sticking learning opportunities as users directly practice hands-on activities transferable to real occupations through realistic VR training.

Challenges and Limitations

While promising, artificial reality still faces adoption hurdles around:

Motion Sickness

Visually-induced motion sickness remains problematic for some within certain VR environments if too many inaccurate visual motion cues are triggered. However, developers are finding better ways to optimize experiences around this biological limitation.

Lack of Content

A vast amount of purpose-built digital assets, environments, and tools will be required for artificial reality to be practical at scale. Currently much of this framework needs to be created mostly from scratch involving high development costs.

Cost Barriers

Premium VR headsets, haptic gloves/suits, and underlying computing hardware remains prohibitively expensive making purchase and trial still difficult for average consumers and smaller organizations on tighter budgets even as costs gradually decrease.

The Future of Artificial Reality

Even as an emerging technology category, artificial reality innovation continues accelerating ahead through:

5G Connectivity

Latency reductions allowing intricate and social AR/VR experiences requiring substantial data transfer will grow practical thanks to expanding 5G infrastructure delivering necessary wireless bandwidth.

More Realistic Environments

With artificial intelligence (AI), enough data from physical spaces, and improved photogrammetry techniques for capturing detailed models, AR/VR worlds will shift closer to reality across visual, audio, and tactile elements.

Ubiquitous AR Experiences

Enabled by ubiquitous mobile devices with ever more advanced cameras and sensors, passive and interactive AR augmentations overlaying helpful cues upon daily moments and tasks for users will dominate as a mainstream interface paradigm.


From radical new entertainment mediums to serious professional training tools, artificial reality innovation continues marching ahead driven by an ambitious collective vision for enhanced human experiences powered by immersive digital simulation. Despite current growing pains as an early-stage technology cluster, the foundations now laid through recent advancements foreshadow artificial reality’s coming impact permeating throughout people’s lives in the imminent future.


What does the term “artificial reality” refer to?

The term artificial reality refers collectively to augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and related technologies that blend digital artifacts with real environments to create interactive and immersive synthetic realities.

How is virtual reality different from augmented reality?

VR completely immerses users in a fully artificial digital environment while AR overlays limited virtual elements onto views of the real world.

What skills are needed to develop artificial reality systems?

Development requires a diverse skillset spanning software engineering, 3D modeling, user experience design, optics and display engineering among other specialties.

What are some practical applications of artificial reality today?

AR and VR today actively assist surgery visualization, flight simulation training, architecture prototyping, phobia therapy, travel experiences, interactive brand marketing, and more. New professional use cases emerge frequently.

What recent advancements indicate about the future of artificial reality?

More realistic graphics rendering, expanded wireless bandwidth enabling complex multiplayer experiences, complementary sensory technologies like haptics and AI-driven content creation signal artificial reality will deeply transform

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