More than likely, you are familiar with Virtual Reality (VR) through games that use VR headsets to immerse you in their digital worlds. Augmented reality (AR) took a different route by adding digital objects and superimposing them onto our actual physical environment. Pokemon GO popularized the use of augmented reality in games. So, what is mixed reality, and what does it have to do with AR and VR? Read on to find out.
VR simulates an entirely digital environment, using virtual objects that have no interaction with our own reality’s physical environment. VR headsets completely immerse you in a digital space, which you can interact with through haptic controllers while connected to a PC or gaming console. As a technology, it was popularized in the early days of science fiction books, movies, and TV shows. Now it’s widely available and supported on modern gaming devices.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
Unlike its virtual counterpart, AR technology uses the physical environment to display digital objects. With increasing smartphone accessibility, AR is now available to almost anyone. It’s not just Pokemon GO or Snapchat filters, either. AR technology is used in various fields today, ranging from advertisement, education, translation, and architecture to military training.
Computers can process an enormous amount of data and convert it into overlaid images in your field of view. At the moment, it’s most commonly done through handheld devices like mobile phones or tablets. However, experts see the technology moving towards hands-free wearable devices like smart glasses or headsets in the future.
Mixed Reality (MR): A Step Beyond AR
You may ask, “What is mixed reality, and why is it such a big deal?” After all, augmented reality tech already allows users to interact with digital objects in the real world. However, mixed reality takes the concept a step further.
MR technology allows for better interaction with digital objects. You could break a digital bottle with a real bat, move 3D models through physical space, or switch between multiple virtual screens with your hands like Tom Cruise in “Minority Report.”
While Mixed reality includes concepts that edgy science fiction likes to use in creating hi-tech visions of the future, we may be closer to that future than we thought. In fact, advancements in computing power, input methods, graphics processors, and displays are bringing that future to us right now.
Mixed reality vs. augmented reality comparisons are expected since both technologies combine the virtual world with the physical one. However, mixed reality has a goal to push it forward towards more interaction.
Mixed reality was introduced as a term in a paper by Fumio Kishino and Paul Milgram called "A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays.” MR goes past simply displaying 3D models in real space by including input from the environment, such as the objects’ location in virtual and natural spaces, 3D sound, and orientation.
Environment and Input
The way we interact with computers has evolved over the years. Users have a range of input peripherals at their disposal, including keyboards, mice, touchpads, joysticks, gamepads, haptic controllers, pen displays, and microphones.
Mixed reality technology relies significantly on computer input through sensors. With advancements in this field and the development of wearables, sensors have become a big part of our everyday lives. They can recognize objects and relay important data such as environmental positioning, object borders, user’s head movements, and sound. Mixed reality uses a perfect blend of interaction between the user, their computer, and the environment.
It can, for instance, place digital objects in your physical space that respond to the limitations set by the environment. Digital objects can be superimposed over real ones, thus creating mixed reality through VR and AR techniques.
How To Use the Benefits of Mixed Reality
With technological development come fantastic ways of using technology to improve the way we do things. Other than the obvious usage in military training programs, MR tech can also be beneficial in education, design, entertainment, and productivity tasks.
Visualization is key to understanding many concepts, and using mixed reality can be a great educational tool for that purpose. MR simulations and the interactions that they provide can significantly enhance and speed up many learning processes.
Using a 3D environment to create 3D digital objects could be the next stepping stone for additive manufacturing software. The technology has the potential to speed up the design process significantly.
MR can create genuinely immersive environments without impacting spatial orientation as VR headsets do. The mix between VR and AR could create fantastically immersive worlds for both videogames and movies by overlapping physical objects with digital ones.
Microsoft has already released HoloLens 2, creating immersive, ergonomic, instinctual, and untethered mixed reality experiences for its users. Having a portable computer, a monitor that can potentially take up your whole field of view, and interacting with your hands and voice only, sounds like something from “The Matrix,” doesn’t it?
Who Is Working on MR Products?
Since mixed reality is a relatively new technology, it’s not as developed as us sci-fi geeks here at KommandoTech would love it to be. It mostly comes up in virtual reality vs. augmented reality discussions, with only a select few consumer electronics and software companies really working to push it to the next level at the moment.
Microsoft’s Mixed Reality HoloLens is one such ambitious project, which integrates the company’s business solution software with a genuine MR headset. Other notable MR projects are Lenovo Explorer, Acer Windows Mixed Reality, and Samsung Odyssey.
The widespread application of mixed reality in all spheres of our lives is quite an exciting prospect, and we can’t wait to see in what innovative ways the IT community will use this tech in the future. Perhaps instead of asking, “What is mixed reality?” we should ask, “How can MR help with my daily work or entertainment?” By the looks of things, we will all get an answer to that question very soon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Nowadays, the best-known example of mixed reality technology is Microsoft’s Hololens. The hardware is a hybrid between a VR headset and smart glasses. The glasses project holograms that users can interact with using their hands, voice, and even eyes.
Hololens comes with some serious hardware to allow its users such interactions with digital objects. It includes five cameras and three sensors that scan the physical 3D environment around you.
If we were pressed to give a mixed reality definition, one answer could be “an improved version of augmented reality.” Mixed reality has all the benefits of augmented reality (such as real-life interaction with physical objects), combined with the immersive nature of virtual reality.
You could say that it allows for a truly hands-on approach to dealing with holographic objects, even superimposing them to the physical environment and objects around you. Those holographic objects are spatially aware and can be interacted with intuitively.
The best way to define mixed reality is as an advanced form of augmented reality or a mix between augmented and virtual reality.
Virtual Reality (VR) provides a wholly immersive experience. The user’s field of view is filled with a computer-generated digital environment and objects. To interact with those digital objects, users have to use special input devices. In the case of broadly and commercially used devices like VR headsets, haptic controllers are used.
Augmented reality (AR) is the more popular and easily accessible technology of the two due to the widespread availability of smartphones. AR adds digital objects to a real-life environment. Those objects can be a 3D model, textual information, or even audio.
Mixed reality is an amalgam of both the physical and the digital, both augmented and virtual reality. The technology allows digital and physical objects to interact with each other in the real world. This hybrid between AR and VR is a new tech frontier for the IT industry, which can provide incredible advancements in many fields, from education to entertainment.
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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.