It’s really interesting to note how VR (virtual reality) stepped up to play an integral role this past holiday season. More specifically, Walmart deployed VR to help train its retail employees to speed up their daily tasks during the busy holiday to train them to find products quickly and deal with harried shoppers. Each worker went through VR training scenarios to work out their best responses to keep customers happy.

The reason everyone is excited about VR is that it gives users a fully immersive, explorable, and interactive 3D computer-created world that takes you to places you might not otherwise be able to go. Whereas, AR (augmented reality), on the other hand, inserts virtual objects to appear as part of the surrounding real world, augmenting the user’s experience.

The most popular forms of virtual reality in the consumer space remains the kind that requires headgear and gloves, such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift and its Touch controllers, which retail for $399 before discounts; and Sony PlayStation VR.

Many Sony Playstation 4 owners already have the camera and controllers, making the incremental cost for the head-worn display $199. This is different from the tracking technology and controllers used by Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which are specific to those VR systems.

Computer giants such as Apple and Microsoft are taking the technology a step beyond gaming with offers.

Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality—the computer giant’s name for a continuum from augmented reality to full virtual reality—has lined up headgear manufacturers such as Acer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Lenovo to produce headgear on its platform. Samsung also supports the Microsoft platform with headgear that includes built-in headphones.

Apple’s version of AR lets people hold up their smartphones to see virtual objects in real-world settings, such as selecting furniture via IKEA’s “Place” app from the IKEA Website and seeing how it would look in one’s living room.

Google also supports augmented reality on Android. (Apple’s software technology that runs on iOS devices is called “ARKit,” while Google’s software technology that runs on Android devices is called “ARCore.”)

These technologies in real-world settings are also growing in the industrial, construction, and entertainment spheres.

Ford Motor Co. and Disney Imagineering, for example, use virtual and augmented reality to build products that appeal to consumers’ tastes, explains Evan Suma Rosenberg, associate director of the MxR Lab at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California.

Ford’s designers use Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets to test changes to cars, trucks, and SUVs, replacing some traditional clay models. Disney uses rooms that act much like Star Trek’s “holodecks” by letting people in the same room feel as though they are in 3D imaginary worlds, and for people in a remote site to link up to the experience.

Similarly, Newport News Shipbuilding lab uses 3D AR maps and scans to let sailors pinpoint the exact areas of a ship that need to be painted. Such technology lets the sailors get the job done more quickly and efficiently, and spend less money doing so, says Steven Feiner, a computer science professor at Columbia University.

Yet technology has its limits.

“For so many things, we care about the real world—seeing and interacting with people,” Feiner adds. “I think it’s ultimately more powerful than making a completely virtual environment.”

We also see big opportunities to overlay BIM (building Information modeling) on real construction jobsites. This can help detect clashes early. Perhaps an interesting development is the DAQRI smart helmet. Here workers can use AR to display a host of relevant jobsite information and to make operations even more handsfree.

Augmented reality can also be used for training or maintenance and repairs. This could be a game changer for equipment operators. This technology could help bridge the gap between generations. Just think if how it can redefine training as we know it.

AR and VR will touch our lives offering perhaps an almost unbelievable utopia creating a new world for all willing to embrace it.

By Sandra Guy, contributing writer and Laura Black, associate senior editor, Connected World