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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ja-Nae Duane

The Impact of Presence in Immersive AR/VR

A simulation of a person interacting in an AR/VR environment

Immersive augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies have a lot of potential to transform how we interact with the world around us. But, the effectiveness of these technologies depends on environmental presence.

Environmental presence is the degree to which you feel immersed in a virtual or augmented environment. The level of immersion depends on how well the virtual world recreates real-world conditions such as sound, light, and temperature. Creating a high level of environmental presence in immersive AR/VR applications is important to helping people fully experience and appreciate its potential.

What is Environmental Presence in AR/VR and Why It Matters

When you engage in tasks, your mind naturally focuses on the activity at hand, diverting attention away from the background or peripheral. But, when a non-task-related stimulus like a sudden sound or image grabs your attention, it draws greater focus than the task itself.

In immersive AR/VR, computer-generated sounds and models are used to create auditory and visual illusions, embedding a "sense of presence" within the environment. This sense of presence can stir up emotions such as fear, excitement, or wonder and amplify the interaction with the virtual surroundings, especially when you experience changes or modifications resulting from your own actions or the actions of others.

A high level of presence enhances the overall immersion and realism of the experience. This is valuable in training and education where heightened presence can improve learning outcomes and retention.

It's also becoming a bigger factor in how we interact with emerging technologies in our daily lives. This applies to social interactions with friends and co-workers through technologies like Zoom, as well as more intimate experiences, such as telehealth encounters impacting the doctor-patient relationship.

Different Types of Environmental Presence in Immersive AR/VR

Each type of environmental presence in AR/VR impacts the experience in different ways. Here is a quick breakdown of the main types of presence that work together to create that impact.

Spatial Presence

Spatial presence is the sensation of physically inhabiting a virtual or augmented space. By using haptic feedback, realistic graphics, and other sensory cues, AR/VR developers can create an environment that makes the virtual world feel very real. Spatial presence is often used to enhance learning experiences and create immersive entertainment.

Social Presence

Social presence is about “feeling the presence” of other people or entities in a virtual or augmented environment. Shared avatars, avatar representation, voice and text chat, and other social features contribute to a stronger sense of connection within the virtual space. A good example is avatar representation, which allows you to establish a sense of connection through onscreen representations of yourself. Virtual shared avatars enable multiple users to share their experiences simultaneously.

Functional Presence

Functional presence refers to the ability to interact with and control objects and spaces in a virtual or augmented world. Gestures, verbal commands, and interactive features enhance functional presence. This allows you to engage with virtual environments in more meaningful ways, such as manipulating objects, navigating around spaces, or interacting with avatars. By leaning on functional presence, developers can create experiences that feel more authentic, human, and engaging.

Key Factors for Enhancing Environmental Presence in AR/VR

While methods differ depending on the application, underlying technologies, and processes, advanced tools like 3D mapping, natural language processing, and machine learning can enhance environmental presence.

These technologies help you interact more intuitively with virtual environments. As a result, you can navigate more effectively and gain a deeper understanding of the context around you. Audio and visuals play a crucial role in making a user feel immersed in a virtual world versus observing it on a screen, such as AR goggles providing you with a view of your home in the distance as you stand on a virtual beach in front of it.

Haptic technologies can also deliver realistic physical sensations. This heightened haptic presence allows you to experience a more immersive simulation, similar to manipulating objects in the real world.

To enhance presence and the overall outcomes of AR/VR experiences, it’s also critical to understand how other factors affect social and environmental immersion, including demographic differences in presence that can impact both types of immersion.

How We Can Help

By understanding the different types of presence and ways to enhance them, AR/VR developers can create immersive experiences that feel more human, more real, and more engaging.

If you want to explore the importance of presence in immersive AR/VR and develop strategies to use it more effectively, connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. I love talking about emerging technologies and helping people understand how to take advantage of their potential.

If you are a business leader interested in collaborating on future systems dynamics within your organization, contact us and my team and I will respond as soon as possible.

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