While there are few types of Extended Reality (XR) currently in use, the concept of Mixed Reality is frequently the most troubling. For a long time, digital entrepreneurs saw MR as the next step in the evolution of AR. In fact, mixed reality is a more complex concept than many people realize.
Table of contents:
- Extended reality technologies: virtual reality vs. augmented reality
- How does mixed reality work?
- Mixed reality for business
- The demand for mixed reality experiences is rising
- The mixed reality spectrum: final thoughts
Extended reality technologies: virtual reality vs. augmented reality
Virtual Reality (VR) offers its users a completely immersive digital experience. To enter a virtual world, a person puts on a special headset (called HMD; head-mounted display) that completely obscures the real-world environment. While inside the simulation, the individual is shown a realistically modeled 3D representation of a chosen area [which may or may not exist in real life] through a pair of lenses. The person can move around and interact with the virtual environment they’re immersed in, but only with the help of a dedicated pair of controllers (as the different interactions are triggered with a chosen set of buttons). And while exploring digital worlds, people actually move around in real life, so each session requires supervision.
Although users are usually aware of the simulated scenario's 'fakeness,' they tend to show emotional response and strong engagement as the simulation typically combines the visual and auditory systems. This is significant because humans construct reality by processing information delivered by their senses, which is why our bodies respond in the same way even when we are aware that we are having a completely digital experience.
Take a look at how – with the right perspective, first-person view, and realistic sounds – simulation can elicit real emotions in a group of people:
Similarly, the majority of simulations induce a strong sense of immersion, giving the person the 'impression' that he is truly experiencing it. And due to their proven ability to increase concentration and material learning, virtual reality scenarios are successfully used in workstation trainings.
Augmented Reality (AR) is a lightweight, portable overlay that allows digital elements to be superimposed on real-world environments. Contrary to virtual reality, it does not create a separate world for users to interact within but instead uses a camera feed to add useful components to the physical world. It's great for virtual try-ons (makeup, clothing), furnishing, displaying heavy or large products on a real scale (machinery), or adding a fun, animated component to a brochure, folder, drug flyer, or any other product that can be scanned/ with a mobile device.
However, it should be noted that the elements of the digital and physical worlds do not interact with each another. AR apps typically include several instructions on how to use them properly, such as placing the brochure on a flat surface or sitting close to a window so the face is in natural light – otherwise, they won’t work. Still, AR is becoming more accessible, with some dedicated apps available for download from the Android and iOS app stores, as well as through various websites.
Both VR and AR are used to transform many industries, including gaming, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.
How does mixed reality work?
Some may argue that mixed reality (MR) is the same as augmented reality (AR). In fact, Hybrid Reality differs from both Augmented Reality (which limits object interaction) and Virtual Reality (which has advanced object integration but focuses on the digital world only). While doing so, it also promises to provide a new level of experience by filling the gaps between the two previously mentioned realities.
To get a better understanding of what it means for us, let's take a look at Microsoft's explanation of how real-world objects and visual displays can both exist in physical space:
Basically speaking, mixed reality allows users to operate in an improved environment in which physical and digital objects coexist. As a result, MR experiences allow for continuous interaction with computer-generated 3D objects that appear and behave like physical objects (often referred to as "holograms”). Spatial sound offers 360-degree audio experiences designed to make digital experiences feel more immersive and realistic. Also, because advanced head-mounted displays are equipped with sensors able to do spatial mapping, mixed reality is able to understand both its own position and the person's body position at any given time.
The overall experience is intended to be simpler and more intuitive, as advanced mixed reality glasses (such as the HoloLens or Magic Leap) can already recognize voice commands, track movements, and hand gestures, as well as map the environment, allowing the user to easily control the manipulation of the digital objects.
Mixed reality for business
MR technologies have all of the elements to become a strong tool for enhancing business processes. Global corporations are already significantly investing in Mixed Reality to replace flat displays and keyboards with totally new immersive experiences.
Let’s take a look at some of the promises that MR provides to businesses:
- Enhanced project development. Realistic holograms can aid in project planning, design, quality assurance, and control. The concept itself is constantly developed by windows mixed reality studies.
- Better communication. MR is already capable of adding instructions over the user's headset vision [live stream video], enabling real-time collaboration and troubleshooting. This allows industry experts to remotely guide workers through even the most complex problems. The ability to hold lifelike meetings using mixed reality technology also reduces the need for business travel, saving both time and money.
- Improved onboarding. New employees do not need to spend weeks reading lengthy manuals because MR provides a place for them to train their skills, as well as practical interactive components so that each team member can be trained and evaluated. All of this will take place in a simulated environment, allowing them to learn the consequences of their mistakes without jeopardizing company assets.
The demand for mixed reality experiences is rising
The pandemic has increased the demand for more immersive, virtual experiences, necessitating increased MR investment. Businesses are already using solutions like 5G to reduce latency and increase data transmission speed. The introduction of new technology into the landscape will only serve to improve our future capabilities with MR.
Artificial intelligence could also be extremely useful in developing Mixed Reality tools that can understand the relationships between physical and virtual worlds and constantly improve them based on human-computer interaction. Overall, the rise of new, improved software in the MR landscape, combined with the increasing availability of technology for creating lightweight, powerful smart glasses, may mean that we will see a new, mixed reality future much sooner than expected.
The mixed reality spectrum: final thoughts
Technology is the most powerful force shaping the future. Nobody knows how advanced it will become or how quickly it will evolve, but innovative gadgets that were previously only seen in sci-fi movies are now becoming commonplace. Think of VR and AR immersive devices and their ability to blend the real and virtual worlds. Or about lightweight mixed reality headsets, which are already assisting people with their tasks.
As technology advances and innovators discover new ways to merge the virtual and physical worlds, the potential of mixed reality becomes more compelling. New devices with a wider range are expected in the future; and as companies will strive for augmented and virtual reality-enhanced futures, MR opportunities will expand.
In fact, mixed reality is still in its early stages. Currently, the majority of MR-ready HMDs can only support a small portion of the mixed reality spectrum: no existing device can combine augmented reality, virtual reality, and parts of the physical world. However, thousands of researchers are constantly working to better understand the concept of the mixed reality spectrum and, as a result, the best ways to integrate digital content into our physical reality.
We have to be aware that innovation is moving at a faster pace than we realize. Hence, as a new reality emerges, investors must take into account new security and costly risk. According to Forrester Research, by 2025, more than 14 million Americans will be wearing at least one wearable device.
It's a huge number to manage. And a lot more consumer data to protect.
If you want to learn about new and exciting ways to grow your business, contact us and schedule a tech-focused discovery session to select a collection of emerging technologies that will help you gain a competitive advantage in your industry.