The hopscotch of realities.
So, you have an important gathering at home and need some groceries. As you reach the grocery store, you realize you forgot the list. Without the list, shopping seems impossible – but your mixed reality glasses have your back.
The glasses give a visual projection of the list, along with directions to where each item is located in the store. A packet of tikka masala from your favorite brand stands out, while the color of the rest gets desaturated. This makes your overall shopping experience fun, easy, and fast.
Welcome to the world of mixed reality.
Mixed reality is a recent innovation that has marked an inevitable change across business facets. Used in conjunction with augmented reality visualization software, it can craft head-turning product visuals through mobile or wearable devices.
What is mixed reality?
Mixed reality (MR) is a hybrid of augmented reality and augmented virtuality where virtual objects interact with real-life objects in your physical space. Whether you have a computer screen to consume mixed reality content or not, you can still hold virtual calls and interact in 3D over important subjects from any time, anywhere.
Ok, this sounds very similar to augmented reality, so what's the difference?
Unlike augmented reality, a semi-digital experience, or virtual reality, a fully digital experience, mixed reality gives users the best of both worlds.
Examples of mixed reality are Instagram or Snapchat filters, virtual makeup applications, and virtual furniture fitting. Highlighting the essence of the natural world and promoting a digital environment with eye-catching visuals has made mixed reality a perfect tool for marketing and information delivery.
Also known as augmented reality 2.0, mixed reality is facilitated by some cutting-edge techniques which make it unique and unforgettable.
How does mixed reality work?
To create a mixed reality experience, you don’t have to worry about physical constraints or obstacles, but need cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
An MR device is powered by advanced AI sensors, cameras, graphical computational power (GPU), and processors, like graphic cards and core chips, to process and store data in three dimensions. The more equipped a device is, the better the mixed reality experience. Examples can be smart glasses, gloves, body suits, or your good-old smartphone.
MR devices can connect users to a wired or wireless computer, console, or PC to access software. The software can add, clone, or move virtual objects around you to create immersions.
New age mixed reality headsets, like HTC Vive or Meta Quest 2, create high-fidelity environments to keep individuals engaged in virtual interactions, thus dissolving the barriers between reality and technology.
Tip: Here are some initial components that an MR solution needs to track for a perfect mixed reality experience.
- Detect physical objects via spatial mapping and bounding boxes
- Real environment perception to create computer-generated replicas
- Input devices like cameras, motion controllers, bodysuits, and treadmill floors
- Object recognition to detect and classify real-world objects and their categories
- Locations and position tracking in both physical and virtual environments to register relationships
- Ambisonics or virtual lights for added realism while displaying virtual content
- Collaboration on 3D assets in mixed reality spaces to enhance virtual look and feel
In addition to this, advanced input sensing and software development kits (SDKs) are pivotal to creating authentic MR experiences.
If, at any given moment, the input sensing ceases to work, the sense of immersion breaks. This complexity of MR technology is a testament to the undisrupted immersive experience it builds for users.
History of mixed reality
The 1994 research paper titled "A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays" mentioned mixed reality for the first time. Popularly defined as one of the components of the “virtuality continuum”, it met AR and VR experiences somewhere in the middle of the ground to create a blend.
The researchers of this paper, Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino, looked at mixed reality as a combination of visual displays that elevate real and virtual environments in a way that every element communicates with each other.
The mixed reality spectrum
The mixed reality spectrum is a linear representation of physical and digital realities. Its continuous scale ranges between completely virtual real reality and completely virtuality.
The real world is on the far left, where nothing is digital. A completely virtual environment is on the far right, where everything is computer generated. Mixed reality lies between augmented and virtual reality, where digital and physical worlds collide to create an immersive platform combining motion capture with artificial creations.
Source: Interaction Design Foundation
Types of mixed reality devices
Mixed reality solutions use two different types of gadgetry.
- Holographic devices create semi-immersive experiences for the user with interactive virtual holograms. Devices like Magic Leap VR, Microsoft HoloLens, and Google Cardboard are examples of holographic devices. They allow users to create 3D visuals to store, download, and share anywhere via edge computing. They are used in factories or manufacturing plants to provide remote visual guidance to professionals on tasks such as product assembly, machine operations, and factory inspections.
- Immersive devices completely replace the user’s surroundings with a virtual environment using a head-mounted display (HMD). An immersive device has two near-eye displays, one for each eye, which meets at a 114° arc, where the users start to see in 3D. Immersive devices also provide six degrees of freedom (6DoF), so users look and move their limbs in any direction without breaking the flow of immersion.
A great example of immersive devices is Meta Quest 2 or Samsung Gear VR.
Use cases of mixed reality
MR empowers you to connect with anyone, regardless of where you are or whether you have a computer available or not. Being a recent innovation, organizations are still testing out their use cases and applications for their business operations.
Mixed reality in marketing
Startups from diverse segments are looking to scale their returns on investments (ROIs) by transitioning into immersive tech. The recent growth of mixed reality has encouraged businesses to use it to expand their marketing campaigns.
Mixed reality has an extensive use case in product advertisement and marketing as it gives a hands-free product experience to the customers. Using MR headsets, consumers can experiment and interact virtually with a company’s products or services before paying.
Mixed reality in education
There’s a big advantage of using mixed reality technology in schools and other educational applications, such as seminars or lectures.
This video went viral when it first came out in 2016. The lifelike whale bursts through the gym floor. See how the water pools on the ground, just as it would in real life. That makes MR special: the digital object (water) interacting believably with the physical world (floor).
Mixed reality in training
Nearly every industry can adopt mixed reality into employee training and staff management processes. Companies like DHL, Xerox, and IBM empower their employees with MR/VR-based training and upskilling program simulations.
With mixed reality, employees can connect and collaborate with mentors in real-time to receive training and save valuable time. Driven by runtime AI, these interactions are platform-independent and let both the learner and trainer visualize and understand different processes that go into the training module.
Mixed reality in entertainment
The obvious shock factor of this type of technology can leave an audience in awe, but there are so many aspects of events and entertainment that could benefit from MR tech.
The Weather Channel has started to use mixed reality technology on their programs to give viewers a more realistic understanding of the current conditions and offer guidance on protecting themselves in case of dangerous weather.
MR is a new wave in technology, so its entertainment applications are a little unusual. For example, Angry Birds First Person Slingshot is an MR gaming experience that uses Magic Leap headsets to superimpose birds into your surroundings.
Mixed reality in healthcare
MR simulations create a hologram effect of real human body parts. Hovering a mobile device over a targeted area creates 3D interactive models of organs to understand their functioning. It has also become a powerful tool for training medical professionals, students, and remotely operating field medics. In radiology, surgeons can use MR-powered X-ray vision to see through a patient's skin and identify blood vessels and bones.
Mixed reality can be extremely effective to implement during critical surgeries, and can even save lives.
Mixed reality wearable computers
Headsets aren’t new, but the possible applications for them are almost endless these days. They map the surrounding physical environment to create a digital display. You could, for instance, move furniture around in a room without ever lifting anything.
This example of MR technology shows digital apps pinned to places that make the most sense. Think about having a to-do list on your fridge and a recipe app next to your oven. This tech takes multitasking to the next level!
Mixed reality in construction or engineering
MR devices can create virtual site maps for project engineers, architects, and onsite workers to use while working remotely. Coupled with 3D modeling software, designers, and architects illustrate their projects via mixed reality holograms.
You can use MR to conceptualize building structures in many forms without traveling long distances for site visits. Whether the pillar markings are off or the parapet is short, whether the paint doesn’t suit or the plywood needs to be changed, mixed reality gives an insight into everything.
Mixed reality in manufacturing
Mixed reality teleports production or manufacturing plants directly into your company’s space. You can oversee assembly lines, inventory, and supply levels from the office. MR acts as a vehicle that lets you and your team monitor and test production processes without actually having to be in close proximity to it.
Source: World Construction Today
The software device changes or highlight manufacturing issues or runs checks in real-time. Japan Airlines (JAL) actively uses Microsoft HoloLens to train engineers with virtual assistance from their location.
Mixed reality video calls
Video calls are a great way to communicate with someone not in the room with you. Well, with MR, they actually can be with you (kind of). Mixed reality video conferencing allows you can move the ‘screen’ around and interact in new ways.
Source: Microsoft HoloLens
With this technology, the person on the other end of the call doesn’t need a headset to take part. They can even draw on their screens to convey what they are trying to say, which will place holograms over physical objects in your view.
Did you know? Microsoft Windows mixed reality portal is a part of Windows 10 and 11. Through its flagship HoloLens, it provides unique access to live sports and entertainment and connects with others in the ultimate high-octane VR gaming experience.
Benefits of mixed reality
Advancements in immersive mixed reality technology have opened up new avenues for both commercial and non-commercial sectors. Ideas that were once devised as sci-fi movies have slowly and gradually drifted into reality.
Let’s discuss just a few of the benefits we get from MR.
- Strong customer base: Mixed reality combined with next-level AI can create unforgettable customer experiences at scale. Customers can experiment with something, try it on, or learn how to use it through instructional videos or virtual manuals in real life.
- Trustworthiness: Trusted brands like Facebook, Apple, and Samsung are already investing in subsidiaries that will develop MR experiences for the general public. These initiatives are also funded heavily in the investment world, which could reduce doubt in the minds of consumers.
- Increased concentration: MR combines natural and digital elements in unexpected ways that keep people focused until their experience is over.
- Hyper personalization: No other form of media passes as more personal and engaging for customers than mixed reality. The individual immersed in a mixed reality scenario works with digital information more closely while in their physical world.
- Virtual demos for vendors: If you are a B2B company, you can provide holographic devices to your client for virtual walkthroughs of the product, which showcase features, modules, applications, and results in the customer’s living space.
- Reduced mishaps: Using MR technology as an adaptive training simulator for dangerous scenarios such as mining, archaeology, or mountain climbing reduces casualties and accidents.
- Conducive learning: Mixed reality's cousin, augmented reality has successfully broken the outdated barriers to education and provides an experiential environment for students to learn, brainstorm, and interact.
Challenges of mixed reality
As mixed reality has been adopted only recently, companies are still investing money in deeper research to see how they can use it as a part of their business funnel.
Mixed reality is driven by immersive technology and artificial intelligence, two standalone digital technologies that themselves haven’t been widely implemented. MR requires exceptional talent, and the process of creating 3D content is expensive, time-consuming, and hardware-intensive. Let’s look closely at some challenges we face in standardizing mixed reality.
- Cost: The upfront cost of creating partially real and partially virtual environments is a lot. Aside from the hardware costs, investing in proper software development kits and hiring efficient developers who can curate customized applications costs thousands of dollars, with no guaranteed ROI.
- Old spatial mapping techniques: Based on computational geometry or other mathematical techniques, which give only an approximate estimate of the position or location of a real-world object. Deploying 3D elements in any given environment requires the precise mapping of real-world coordinates.
- Trained workforce: Service specialists, data analysts, and software engineers to build, train and test the entire infrastructure from scratch are necessary if you want to create an optimal MR experience. It’s one of the major MR challenges faced by industries today.
- Time-consuming: MR is unlikely to be chosen as an efficient way of generating ROI. A startup’s minimum viable product (MVP) requires efficient marketing followed by lightning-fast production like just-in-time to spike sales. Mixed reality takes its own sweet time to show results.
- User experience: Across different parts comes with different levels of tech savviness. Some might not be comfortable using a device to experience MR.
Augmented reality vs. virtual reality vs. mixed reality
AR, VR, and MR fall under the same umbrella term of extended reality (XR). Despite the parity in the degree of immersions created by each of them, there is a possible relationship that makes them the epicenter of immersive tech.
Augmented reality overlays digital content in a real-world scenario to educate, entertain, and immerse people. It is a way to augment a user’s sense of perception. AR experiences are mainly supplemented with AR headsets, controllers, input devices, and gyroscopes. Examples can be Pokémon Go and Snap AR.
Virtual reality is a complete virtual replica of reality, representing every real element through a digital avatar. The fundamental concept behind the metaverse, virtual reality mainly focuses on cross-border virtual communication and social connections.
Mixed reality is a hybrid of augmented and virtual reality where 3D objects interact with the physical environment and people.
Mixed reality can also create deceptive visuals in the user’s environment, making it hard to distinguish what’s real and computer-generated. It’s a recent innovation bound to gain immense traction in the coming years as more people rely on cloud networks and immersive gadgetry for communication.
No mixed feelings here
Mixed reality has surely set humankind on an ambitious journey to explore more about the universe.
It’s just getting started, but a glimpse so far has had a drastic impact on people and their mindsets. In the coming years, we’ll get to see how everyone uses mixed reality in unison to work, play, and communicate their ideas.
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