By now, you’ve probably at least heard of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), if not experienced either or both for yourself. Most examples that have captured the public’s imagination are games or first-generation apps that, while impressive, are just scratching the surface of what these technologies can do. While VR and AR companies continue to drive innovation, a new category has emerged which promises to deliver even more transformative applications—mixed reality (MR).
How does mixed reality differ from virtual and augmented reality?
To understand mixed reality, one must first understand the characteristics of virtual reality and augmented reality.
Mixed reality applications
- Virtual reality—VR has been around the longest and is the technology with which most people are familiar. Upon putting on a head-mounted display, the user is fully immersed in an entirely digital world. All settings, sounds and objects are virtual. Users can use special gloves and controllers to interact with the 360-degree world while receiving haptic feedback.
- Augmented reality—AR also relies on a head-mounted display, but the user sees digital information or objects that are overlaid in real time into the real world. Pokémon Go is probably the most recognizable use of AR today. Home decorating apps to virtually try new paint colors or furniture have also gained popularity.
- Mixed reality—MR is a more immersive and interactive form of augmented reality—consider it AR 2.0. The digital information and objects overlaid in AR become anchored to the environment, are spatially aware, responsive and interact with the real world in real time. The difference is subtle but powerful. There’s also a form of MR whereby digital objects paint over real objects. The resulting experience is VR, but based on the real-world space in which the user operates.
It’s easier to understand the nuances of MR, and revenue-generating potential, by sharing some real-world business applications.
When can you cash in on mixed reality?
- Medical—Surgeons can use MR to perform surgeries more effectively, gaining access to digital information such as patient vitals, past medical records, anatomical diagrams and more while operating on the patient. It’s not unrealistic to imagine MR devices highlighting where to cut or clamp, thus improving outcomes.
- Education—MR has exciting applications in all levels of education. K-12 students can easily study anatomy without having to use a scalpel. Mechanics and field technicians can perform maintenance while receiving feedback and instruction based on their current actions and position.
- Military—By using cameras and sensors such as IR and LiDAR (light detection and ranging), ground troops wearing MR goggles can be digitally alerted to enemies or landmines unseen by the naked eye. MR can also be used to assist forces in firing on unseen enemies while avoiding firing upon allies and non-combatants.
We expect it will take 2-5 years before the software and hardware used in MR reach maturity. There’s also plenty of work to be done in integrating cloud services and AI to make MR even more powerful. In the meantime, new VR and AR solutions continue to hit the market.