What is Mixed Reality?

 People are often confused by the term Mixed Reality (MR), and usually mistaken it for Augmented Reality (AR), which is similar, but definitely not the same technology.

Mixed Reality is a great advancement of Augmented Reality (AR) – which is the technology behind 2016’s Pokémon GO phenomenon. Interactive virtual objects can be assigned to the physical environment, blending the real and the virtual environments together, hence creating a hybrid one.

Although the core premise of both AR and MR is alike, the significant difference is the fundamental technology. Mixed Reality is headset-based, whereas Augmented Reality is viewed through a flat-screen like through a smartphone or a tablet. MR is also aware of the geometry of the environment around the user and uses it as the canvas for the user to create immersive content that is defined by the space he/she is in.

Since Mixed Reality blends both physical and virtual worlds, these two realities determine the polar ends of a spectrum called the virtuality continuum. For easiness, we refer to this as the Mixed Reality spectrum. On the left-hand side we have physical reality in which we humans exist; on the right-hand side we have the equivalent digital reality.

Augmented vs. Virtual Reality

Most smartphones nowadays have little to no environmental understanding capabilities. Hence the experiences that they offer cannot blend physical and digital realities. The experience that adds layers to graphics on video streams of the physical world is Augmented Reality. The experience that obstructs one’s view to present a digital experience is Virtual Reality. The experience resulted between these two extremes is Mixed Reality:

  • Beginning with the physical world, placing a virtual object, such as a hologram, as if it was really there.
  • Beginning with the physical world, a digital representation of a person, like an avatar that displays the location where they were standing when leaving notes. Otherwise stated, experiences that stand for asynchronous collaboration at different points in time.
  • Beginning with a digital world, physical limitations from the physical world, like walls and furniture, appear digitally within the experience to help users stay clear from physical objects.

Augmented and Virtual Reality represent a small part of this spectrum. They are, nevertheless, subsets of the greater Mixed Reality spectrum. Windows 10 is built with the whole spectrum in mind which allows blending digital representations of people, places, and things with the real environment.

Devices and experiences

There are two main kinds of devices that deliver Windows Mixed Reality experiences:

  1. Holographic devices.These devices are characterized by the device’s ability to put digital content in the real world as if it were really there.Microsoft HoloLens is one of a holographic devices, with see-through display, that allows the user to see the physical environment while wearing the headset. It has a full six-degrees-of-freedom movement, both rotation and translation.
  2. Immersive devices.These devices are characterized by the device’s ability to make a sense of “presence” concealing the physical world, and replacing it with a digital experience. Samsung HMD Odyssey+ is one of an immersive devices, with Opaque display. that blocks out the physical environment while wearing the headset. It has a full six-degrees-of-freedom movement, both rotation and translation.

Whether a device is connected to a separate PC or self-contained, it does not reflect if a device is holographic or immersive. Definitely, features that improve mobility give a user better experiences, and both holographic and immersive devices can be connected or unconnected.

Technological progress is what has enabled Mixed Reality experiences. There are no available devices that can run experiences across the entire spectrum. Although, Windows 10 provides a mutual Mixed Reality platform for both device manufacturers and developers. Devices nowadays can support a certain range within the Mixed Reality spectrum. In the future, new devices will increase that range, holographic devices will become more immersive, and immersive devices will become more holographic.

Mixed Reality is going to change our lives, not by taking something that already exists and putting it in our pocket, but by entirely revolutionizing the way we view and interact with the world.

The opportunity to disconnect ourselves from our physical limits will change how we exist in the world.

MR could have an impact on traveling. People could have a life-like meeting via a Mixed Reality device, and there will be less need for business travel and commuting. It would save a whole lot of time, and money.

Mixed Reality could also have an impact on education. What if there is an always-on AI assistant that knows what one is trying to achieve? Also digital overlays bringing knowledge to people in real-time. Does one need to learn skills in the same way? Like opening the bonnet of a broken down car and having knowledge of exactly what to do to fix it.

Mixed Reality could also have a great impact on business, by posing a huge opportunity to solve business problems. MR could see what one is trying to do which is very powerful in a business context.

For instance, French manufacturer Renault Trucks. In collaboration with technology partner Immersion, this company has been using HoloLens at its Lyon-based facility to better quality control processes with its engine assembly operations. In one of the company statements, an engineer leading the project said, “In practice, quality control operators will use Microsoft HoloLens smart glasses in which all the digitized engine parts will be integrated. Using the glasses and Mixed Reality interface, operators could see decision-making instructions which will guide them through the complex control operations. Currently, operators working on control points are still using paper instructions.

Likewise, ThyssenKrupp, a German manufacturer of elevators and escalators, is also currently using HoloLens. Field technicians are using the HoloLens device to ensure they have all the essential information, literally in front of their eyes, to guarantee they can fix the machinery as efficiently as possible.

Mixed Reality in business isn’t only limited to Microsoft HoloLens, but Google Glass Enterprise Edition is also found in an industrial setting. This ‘hands-free device for hands-on workers’ has helped various clients from doctors to automobile assemblers. Annotated images, training videos, and quality assurance checklists could easily be accessed to guarantee jobs get done safely and fast. The Google glasses can also connect an employee to co-workers so they could see what he/she sees through a live video stream to enable real-time collaboration and troubleshooting.

In the Future, most of the companies in multiple industries will be using AR/VR/MR solutions. Currently, many companies are already looking at new technologies to help improve their businesses.

Not just in enterprise, but Mixed Reality will add magic to our daily lives. MR allows us to create our own rules on how people view the world, and how they react to it. By bonding the physical and digital in unexpected ways, we can stimulate and inspire. The Mixed Reality possibilities for entertainment are endless.