As technological progress has progressed, we have witnessed how the message of technological tools, also called mediums, is transformed into an experience, so much so that we have begun to use the body to make the interaction with the medium itself as similar as possible to that which individuals have in the real environment. Technology, therefore, with the passage of time takes on different functions; we no longer speak only of a technological tool, but of experience. The new mediums are no longer something unknown, unknown and opaque, but are opportunities characterized by transparency. In other words, we speak of a medium as an artifact, i.e. ‘any object used by humans in their activity to coordinate themselves in the physical and social environment’ (Cole and Engestrom, 1993). The more an individual interacts with the new medium, the more he or she will be able to use it effectively in an intuitive way, thus turning the artifact into an opportunity. 

The trend of the modern era is closely linked to the concept of integrality, i.e. a continuous exchange of mutual influence between the real and virtual dimensions. In the technological field, concerning this fundamental concept, we speak of ‘hyperreality’: ‘a new interface capable of integrating physical reality, digital objects and environments, human intelligence and artificial intelligence (Tiffin and Terashima, 2001). An example of hyperreality is augmented reality. It is a technology that allows, through the use of special digital tools, to interact with the external environment. The first studies related to this new technique originated in specific areas of research, in particular medicine, and within military applications. When speaking of augmented reality, two different technologies can be understood. The first, the one that is becoming increasingly successful, is that ‘experienced’ through mobile devices. Nowadays, all smartphones and tablets are equipped with a camera, GPS, compass, and accelerometer, enabling the user to view a series of data and information on the area framed by the camera lens. This creates an overlap between the physical elements in the environment and the digital ones proposed by the device. An example of this type of reality augmentation is Layar, the first software to go public in 2009. It is a specific browser for mobile devices that allows the user to obtain specific information about the presence of points of interest in the vicinity of the place where he is located. It also allows the user to locate and reach them via the smartphone’s GPS, by pointing the phone’s camera in the direction he or she wants to go. The second type of augmented reality is that which is used through computer processing. In this case, augmented reality consists of specific software that can recognize black and white drawings that are processed using specific markers to create images, films, and other multimedia content. Augmented reality thus makes it possible to increase and improve – through human-technology interaction – a series of actions that are regularly carried out every day. We are talking about an enrichment of perceptions thanks to digital processing, i.e. software, of the information that makes up our daily lives. Depending on the technology used, the increase in knowledge can take place through a more accurate and detailed visualization of the environment, the increased perception of sounds, or the remote control of technological tools such as smartphones, tablets, or others. In addition to enhancing the human-computer relationship, augmented reality is closely linked to artificial intelligence. Both of these technologies are considered to be key elements of the future, destined to become commonplace in everyone’s lives. “Augmented reality is an example of the fusion of real and virtual worlds so that they are perceived by the user within the same visual field” (Milgram and Kishino). As far as augmented reality is concerned, according to the Horizon Report 2011, it is expected to establish itself in common use among learning technologies within two to three years. 

The report highlights the great learning advantages offered by the use of this technology, thanks to the possibility of superimposing digital data on the real world and simulating dynamic processes, as is the case in other fields such as e-commerce, where it is possible to visualize the effect of furnishings or wallpaper in one’s home before making a purchase, or in the field of museums and historical artifacts, with the use of a latest-generation smartphone (equipped with GPS, compass, and camera) with a specific augmented reality application installed, simply by pointing the phone’s camera at the object of interest, it is possible to receive a myriad of information regarding the object’s history, its appearance in various historical periods, its current physical location in the museum, etc., thus enabling the visitor to gain a deeper insight into the history of the object. This allows the visitor to deepen his or her knowledge of the work of art as much as possible. Derrick de Kerckhove, in a recent article published in Mediaduemila, talking about the technologies that will change the near future, in the paragraph in which he refers to the Augmented Reality announces: “We are taking the first steps into Augmented Reality, a real magic possible thanks to Air Tag, existing software that allows users, with suitable devices, to connect to sites that provide information services about the place they are visiting” (de Kerckhove, 2010, 14). The main areas of application of this technology today are the military (combat training for pilots) and medicine (images obtained by CT or PET superimposed on the area of operation to improve accuracy).

One aspect to watch out for is not to confuse augmented reality with virtual reality. As mentioned above, while the former is enrichment and enhancement of the perception of the real world through a series of digital contents and additional inputs that allow (always in real-time) to have a deeper knowledge of the environment that surrounds us of a specific part of it, virtual reality uses digital technologies to recreate completely artificial environments. furthermore, augmented reality, not being immersive like VR, does not require visors or specific supports, but can be viewed directly on mobile devices. If we wanted to expose ourselves more to one side rather than the other, virtual reality has a greater capacity for adaptability, as it can reproduce any kind of virtual environment, allowing a dynamic approach to real issues. Perhaps this is why VR is considered the new frontier of software development. One can conclude by saying that virtual reality cannot be reduced to a set of technologies, but its essence is precise “the non-media experience” (Bricken, 1990). However, both are two different artifacts that are essential to creating immersive, enjoyable experiences that can improve people’s well-being and quality of life.

VRAINERS aims to integrate these kinds of technologies with different characteristics, but together they have a very high potential. This is certainly true, but it is also true that the use of these technologies may involve risks. First of all, the professionals who are behind the construction of paths and projects that involve the adoption of new media: “RV environments can evoke the same emotions as the situation experienced in the real world and the sense of presence can be experienced even in virtual environments that are not graphically accurate” (Parsons, Rizzo, 2008: Powers, Emmelkamp, 2008). In other words, the effectiveness of virtual reality augmented reality or similar type of technology product does not only depend on the graphical qualities, but also the content of the message, i.e. the experience. This means that the content and practical aspect is just as important as the technical and graphic one. The Vrainers team focuses on the concept of integrating different skills and knowledge to converge on a single objective: professionals from the fields of graphics, marketing, software programming, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and psychology all work together to enhance skills and achieve optimum levels of well-being and quality of life.

I would like to conclude with a famous statement that Vrainers always refers to: “coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, but being able to work together is success” (Henry Ford).

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Author:

Francesco Palazzo

Degree in psychological sciences and techniques from the University of L’Aquila. Master’s degree in Psychology of Well-being: empowerment, rehabilitation, and positive technologies, at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan. Master’s degree in Sport Psychology. Specialized in the use of Positive Technologies applied to different psychological fields, conducting an experimental study on cognitive enhancement and technical-motor gestures on young competitive tennis players through an integrated training of mental training and virtual reality.

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