There is More to Immersion Than Meets the Eye

via Tim Marler

While capabilities for an improved visual experience dominate the markets for AR and VR, there are also new capabilities surfacing that target the broader aspects of immersion.  Arguably, one of the primary value propositions for both VR and AR is providing users with the feeling of experiencing a particular scenario or environment – of being immersed in a scenario that is not necessarily completely real.  But, it may feel real.

Technically, the most relevant definition for the word immerse is, to plunge into a specified state.  Perhaps more revealing is an alternate definition: to plunge, drop, or dip into or as if into liquid.  Finally, immerse can mean, to baptize by putting the body under water.[1]  Certainly, these definitions suggest that providing an “immersive” experience requires more than high visual fidelity.  In fact, a RAND study on collective simulation-based training discusses the multiple dimensions to fidelity: physical, functional, and psychological.  Intuitively, one would likely guess that there is more to a virtual experience than just the view.

Recently, the company, Woojer, released what they call the Vest Edge (and the Strap Edge).  This system includes low-frequency transducers for providing an oscillatory haptic sensation that aligns with music and/or visual virtual scenes.  It provides yet another dimension to the immersive virtual experience.  In addition, there are systems for generating various smells to augment a visual scene.  Some systems can use certain smells to make a user feel like the temperature has changed, using what is called synesthesia. There are even small rooms that can control what a user sees, hears, smells, and feels (e.g., temperature) concurrently.

Of course, as the RAND study notes, the highest level of fidelity is not always necessary. The appropriate level of fidelity depends on the goal. While VR and AR have certainly captured the headlines, it is important to remember that there is more to immersion than meets the eye. As potential applications for AR and VR expand, it is important to consider the end goal, what dimension(s) of immersion are needed, and what level of fidelity is needed.


[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Ed., New World Dictionaries/Simon and Schuster, New York, New York, 1983.

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