Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

CTO TechRadar

Augmented Reality

Immersive digital experiences within natural environments


The differences between Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality, and how you can get ready to experience a new reality for yourself.

The History and Future of Virtual Reality

We’ve been trying to capture “Virtual Reality” for much longer than just the past five to ten years. There were popular peer-through toys in the 1950s and enclosed flight simulators debuted in the 1960s, but the idea of VR goes back even further.

As early as the 1930s, science fiction writers, inventors, and tinkerers dreamt of an environment where you could escape from reality via art and machines. We were weighing questions about Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality vs. Mixed Reality long before we had the technology to make them possible.

Technology has caught up to fiction, and market researchers predict rapid growth for the VR industry.

VR and AR Meet MR

First things first, let’s define the terminology. Virtual Reality can be used as an umbrella term to describe other technologies similar to, but different from, an actual Virtual Reality experience. But what’s the difference between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality? Here are some more details:

Virtual Reality

VR is the most widely known of these technologies. It is fully immersive, which tricks your senses into thinking you’re in a different environment or world apart from the real world. Using a head-mounted display (HMD) or headset, you’ll experience a computer-generated world of imagery and sounds in which you can manipulate objects and move around using haptic controllers while tethered to a console or PC.

Augmented Reality

AR overlays digital information on real-world elements. Pokémon GO* is among the best-known examples. Augmented reality keeps the real world central but enhances it with other digital details, layering new strata of perception, and supplementing your reality or environment.

Mixed Reality

MR brings together real world and digital elements. In mixed reality, you interact with and manipulate both physical and virtual items and environments, using next-generation sensing and imaging technologies. Mixed Reality allows you to see and immerse yourself in the world around you even as you interact with a virtual environment using your own hands—all without ever removing your headset. It provides the ability to have one foot (or hand) in the real world, and the other in an imaginary place, breaking down basic concepts between real and imaginary, offering an experience that can change the way you game and work today.

Using Virtual Reality Technologies

From gaming, to movies, to medicine, the uses for Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality are expanding.

  • Healthcare—For training, such as for surgical simulations
  • Film and TV—For movies and shows to create unique experiences
  • Virtual travel—For virtual trips to an art museum—or another planet—all from home
  • Professional sports—For training programs like STRIVR to help pro and amateur athletes
  • Gaming—For over 1,000 games already available, from first-person shooters to strategy games to role-playing adventures

What Does It Take To Explore VR, AR, And MR?

  • Research headsets; VR, AR and MR capabilities; and requirements of the hardware and software.
  • Determine if your current computer system can handle the load.
  • If it can’t, decide on a desktop or laptop that meets recommended requirements and has a high-performing CPU.
  • Ensure the computer, the headset, and the game will all work well together.

Virtual Reality (VR) has been the “next big thing” for several years, but its time has finally come as a way to generate realistic images, sounds, and other sensations that put you smack in the middle of a spectacular imaginary world. Augmented Reality (AR), which adds virtual stuff to your real world environment, is contributing to the buzz, and both technologies should become a big part of our future. With Mixed Reality (MR), you can play a virtual video game, grab your real world water bottle, and smack an imaginary character from the game with the bottle. Imagination and reality have never been so intermingled.

So much is happening so fast that the differences between VR, AR, and MR can seem a little puzzling at first. Each of these spellbinding technologies are accessible to almost everyone, but before you throw down your hard-earned money for the latest head-mounted display, let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need for an amazing VR, AR, or MR experience.

Essential Equipment and Terms

What You’ll Need: Headsets

There are many, many VR headsets available, all with varying performance levels and prices. Entry-level gear, such as Google Cardboard, uses your mobile phone as the screen, whereas PC-operated devices, like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, are immersive—providing a premium VR environment. Microsoft has recently announced their Windows 10 Mixed Reality platform that initially uses fully immersive headsets offered by Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung.

Some AR headsets are available on the market today, with more rumored to be coming in the future. The Microsoft Hololens, Google Glass, and the Meta 2* headset are great examples.

Every PC-connected HMD will have different system requirements, so if you’re buying a new Virtual Reality headset, make sure you check with the HMD vendor for their recommended and minimum system requirements.

What You’ll Need: Computers

If you are looking for a new computer and you’re interested in VR, you’ll need something that can handle heavy loads. When it comes to high-end desktops or laptops for Virtual Reality (and other advanced tasks like gaming or video editing), the CPU, GPU, and memory are the most critical components.

Without these high-performing components working in sync, you could have a pretty miserable experience. A powerful system will ensure that you’ll have fun as you lean in, stand up, or walk around. VR that lags makes it impossible for the virtual world to respond as you expect, which can lead to more than just disappointment; it increases the risk of motion sickness.

A high-end processor assists in positional tracking and controls how real and immersive your virtual environment will be, so you’ll enjoy a deeper experience in a higher-fidelity environment. For a great VR experience, consider the latest generation Intel Core™ i7 processor.

A discrete graphics processing unit (GPU) is recommended, or in the case of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality Ultra*, it is required. The GPU is responsible for rendering the high resolution, immersive images needed for VR. Oculus, HTC, and Microsoft all have profiler tools that you can download from their websites, and you can use to run on your PC to determine if it meets the minimum requirements for their VR headsets.

Choose Your Experience

New VR and AR technologies and products continue to come to market, making new environments accessible to the masses. Virtual, Augmented, Mixed—the choice for a new reality is up to you. Let your imagination, and your readiness to try new gear, enhance your experience!

Key VR Terms to Know

Frames per second (FPS)

  • Frequency at which a system can display consecutive images, or frames
  • Without a high and constant frame rate (greater than 60 FPS), the motion won’t look right, and you could even feel sick

Field of view

  • The angle of the observable world that can be seen
  • If the window of view is too narrow, you could end up making unnatural head rotations

Degrees of Freedom (DoF)

  • The number of directions that an object can move or rotate. The six degrees of freedom are pitch, roll, yaw, left and right, forward and backward, up and down
  • More DoFs allow you to move more naturally in VR


  • The amount of time it takes a system to react/respond to movements or commands
  • Latency is critical when it comes to the presence inside Virtual Reality—if the system doesn’t respond instantly, it doesn’t feel real.

Possible Applications

Below are a few examples of how each organization within GSA could pilot solutions utilizing augmented reality technology:


Contract writing

The typical contract writing process tends to be structured and should be easily repeatable. By incorporating augmented reality, you could essentially embed QR codes into various areas within the contract template, which would display or overlay useful contract writing information to the person drafting the contract. This same approach could also be implemented within Terms of Service (ToS) and End User License Agreements (EULA) reviews.


Exterior architecture visualizations

PBS could effectively visualize digital depictions of property construction, staging, upgrades, and renovations. This would allow for better decision making and reviewing large complex projects prior to making critical decisions.



With augmented reality, GSA users could conduct self-help troubleshooting by being presented with overlays of where certain actions should be performed. This could save the agency money and time as users would be able to resolve their issues independently.


Augmented Reality Examples can be used in training simulations for surgeons, the operation of production, and immersion of teaching experiences within the classroom. The economic benefits of AR are expected to be felt everywhere and many use cases can be used for many things and go further in the future.


AR tools are currently assisting teachers by creating an interactive learning experience for their students. AR has helped students visualize mathematical concepts through visuals and interactive 3D models. One example helping students learn geometry more interactively is an application called Merge Cube, which allows students to virtually hold, view, and rotate 3D objects. Augmented reality also helps incorporate gamification through a virtual platform thus creating an experience for the student to learn in a more interactive and fun way.

An important and popular application for augmented reality in education is the use of AR apps directly in the classroom. For teachers it provides a visual representation of the material, and then students can test their knowledge.

AR has an advantage of offering training to the student in a restrictive environment without actually being in a restrictive environment such as a construction site or other difficult or dangerous places to learn.

It can be a prototype of training because of the pandemic and its physical location limitations.

Immersive learning experiences including 360 degree videos and 3D environments with scales and orientations that offer an advantage to the student are possible.


AR creates an environment and shows surgeons how to go through organs and therefore has surgery improvement implications.

Companies and Contracts

Augmented Reality adoption has been growing quickly over the past several years. Industries such as healthcare, retail, gaming, education and government are looking to take advantage of its capabilities and potential benefits. The ability to add sounds, images and specific textual information in a digital way along with ‘real’ life situations allows a more immersive experience for the users.

Several companies have entered the space as both VR/AR with a few focusing on the latter.

Some Companies identified from publicly available information are listed below. This is in no way an endorsement of any particular company, but simply a group identified as having an already established presence in the Augmented Reality Technology space.

List of Augmented Reality Companies (Source):

8TH Wall

“8th Wall developed a phone-based augmented reality platform where AR experiences are created with JavaScript and WebGL. So they can run within a mobile browser–no app required. Ad agencies can use the company’s WebAR tool to create experiences that run on their brand client’s websites viewed within Safari and Chrome on iOS and Android devices. The platform supports many of the features that Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore do, including light detection, surface and edge detection, and six degrees of freedom in user motion. In 2020, Lego used it in Harry Potter sets that turned walls into magic portals, and Burger King teleported the “King” and rapper Lil Yachty into viewers’ homes during the MTV VMAs.” (Source)

GSA Contract(s) & Vendors

As of now there is one major vehicle for making use of Augmented Reality, however the categories within the Virtual/Augmented Reality space are listed among other emerging technologies to be acquired within specific Task Orders. (8ASTARS3) - SubContracts and Vendors (STARS3 ET)

(Source: GSA eLibrary)

Laws and Legislation

Photo of the US Capitol building

  • S.1790 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020
  • H.R.6395 - William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 / Office of the CTO

An official website of the U.S. General Services Administration

Looking for U.S. government information and services?