Virtual reality has huge potential, but the general public still has a lot to learn about what it can do. And augmented reality is coming on fast.
Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are on their way to changing the way we travel the world, learn new things, do our work and interact with others.
That is the main takeaway from a panel discussion of scientists, educators and entrepreneurs who gathered Tuesday in Washington.
Google's principal filmmaker for VR, Jessica Brillhart, says the technologies are similar but not identical.
"VR is about convincing you that you are somewhere else. AR is, simply put, just adding something to the reality that you are existing in currently," she said.
Virtual reality has been around in various forms, but has really found its footing in the computer gaming industry, and is also gaining new uses in industry, health care and education.
Virtual-reality headsets cover the whole visual area and enable viewers to feel as if they are present in a completely different environment, such as a museum, a park, a fabric workshop, an office or an aircraft cockpit.
Augmented-reality glasses let you see the real world, but can also project additional information that only the wearer can see. The enormously popular smartphone-based game Pokemon Go is one example.
Both technologies are ideal for learning and practicing new skills. Physicians, for example, can use these techniques to learn and practice new surgical procedures.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Johan Uvin, another panelist at Tuesday's discussion in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, said virtual reality has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about education and to address the issue of enormous inequities in access to learning opportunities for many children and adults.
A lot of VR and AR applications are still in an experimental phase but many industries, such as Boeing, are already using augmented reality to train their workers and help them assemble critical airplane parts.
The price of headsets is constantly dropping, and there are simple cardboard goggles that work with most common smartphones.
According to the digital industry analytics website Digi-Capital, by 2020 the revenue from VR and AR may reach $150 billion, with augmented reality taking the lion's share.