The age of mixed reality has started! It will revolutionize shopping, education, healthcare, professional training, manufacturing, and space exploration!
The pursuit of a digital reality gave us many amazing tech gadgets like Google Cardboard, Google VR, Meta Quest, and more. However, the advancement did not just stop there. You can now interact in a mixed media of virtualization and reality.
People call this MR, and it is attracting many eyeballs and investments. Read on to learn mixed reality in a simple language so that you can apply this knowledge in your career, profession, business, or just for entertainment.
What Is Mixed Reality (MR)?
Mixed reality is all the technologies between the real environment and extended reality. It blends virtual reality, augmented reality, and interactivity in augmented reality.
While virtual and augmented reality is just one way, more like a monolog, MR is a dialogue between you and your digital assets in the real world.
Here, you can interact with digital content in a physical world setup and create meaningful actions. For example, applying AR filters on Instagram and creating funny images or videos are the most successful examples of mixed reality.
Researchers in this domain found that virtual reality and augmented reality have limited scope for monetization. These technologies would vastly impact the entertainment domain and somewhat the education industry.
However, MR is set to impact most of the business scenarios that utilize digital content from the web and want to make that content available to their customers in a physical setup.
What is Mixed Reality Portal?
The most accessible and reliable example of MR in the present day is the Mixed Reality Portal app from Microsoft Corporation. You can download and install the app from Microsoft Store for any Windows 10 and later computers.
However, the app requires a VR headset or MR headset before you can explore its full potential. At the time of writing, the MR Portal Windows app supported wearables like HP Reverb G2, Microsoft HoloLens 2, Microsoft HoloLens, Magic Leap One, Occipital Bridge, etc.
Along with any of the mentioned wearables, you also need a gaming computer, access to the SteamVR library of VR games for school or office work in a virtual setup. For professional use, Microsoft has also launched Microsoft Mesh for the Teams app.
Advantages of Mixed Reality
The primary advantage of MR over all other digital reality realms is that it has extensive possibilities for business applications. It is not just centered on entertainment like gaming and video watching.
Apart from the monetizability of this technology, here are other notable advantages of mixed reality:
Create Digital Content
You can superimpose your digital art canvas on physical objects and create exact replicas in seconds for online publishing on websites, YouTube, social media, and more.
Produce Physical Objects
Consumer goods, vehicles, and appliance factories that need human tradesmen for fine assembling or manual labor can use this next-generation technology to minimize production costs. One tradesman can do the job remotely and control thousands of robotic arms using MR wearables and controllers.
Reduce Business Travel Expenses
Mixed reality brings money from one end and stops expenses from another end. Businesses can use Microsoft Mesh and HoloLens products for real-life-like business meetings. Professionals do not need to travel distances to attend meetings.
Reduce Marketing Expenses
Marketing events like field marketing and experiential marketing involve millions of dollars in budget. When MR will be easily accessible like smartphones, your target audience can attend such marketing events from the comfort of home. Ultimately, the business house will save a lot on marketing expenses.
Enhance Customer Experience
Shopping malls and outlets can enhance consumer experiences by guiding them within the premises.
Software, website, and app development projects can invite a few users for product testing in various phases of Agile development through MR-based remote participation and discussions.
Challenges in Mixed Reality
Mixed reality is still an emerging technology. Though many hardware manufacturers have rolled out wearable gadgets, these have their own limitations.
According to Expert Market Research, the global mixed reality market value was $681 million in 2020. In the 2023-2028 period, the market will further grow at a CAGR of 77%. In 2026, it will reach a market value milestone of $20,708 million.
Most of the money will be from investments to resolve the following challenges:
Mapping environmental coordinates and placing the 3D objects within that space is a technology that is in the development phase. Companies must develop more effortless and robust spatial mapping systems.
Human Action Mapping
Mapping users’ actions and adjusting the whole 3D environment dynamically is another challenge.
Spatial sound generation and listening equipment are costly and not widely available.
Positioning and Locating Objects and Users
Coordinating the virtual and physical environment with spatial mapping data of the environment and user has its own limitations.
3D Asset Creation and Interaction
In test conditions, you can create a few 3D objects and show that the mixed reality concept is viable. But when the technology will hit the market, it needs to create billions of 3D replicas of the physical world. Hence, 3D modeling at scale is another bottleneck.
Gadgets like Microsoft HoloLens 2, HP Reverb G2, Microsoft HoloLens, Magic Leap One, etc., come at a premium price. Not to mention, smartphones are also becoming costlier each year.
Additionally, extended reality software, the internet, 5G network, etc., are also becoming increasingly unaffordable.
AI, ML, and Big Data
Mixed reality will extensively use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and big data to provide the seamless experience you want. However, these domains have limitations and we need more developments.
Lengthy Research and Development (R&D)
The R&D process is costly and lengthy. It could take years for a startup to produce a small viable product (MVP) in the mixed reality domain.
Training the Existing Workforce
Companies also need to run widespread campaigns to train the existing workforce with mixed reality hardware and software.
According to World Bank, there are 3.45 billion workers worldwide. Even if we plan to train only skilled workers, we are talking about millions of employees.
When businesses will go to the public for mixed reality products and services marketing, they will find very few users who are enough tech savvy to use the technology. It would take years of awareness generation and training to create a sizeable consumer base.
How Does Mixed Reality Work?
MR mostly works in the presence of an MR headset, a high-performance computer, and hand-held controllers.
The MR goggles contain hardware that visualizes holographic projections of 3D content on an LCD screen of the same goggles. Using spatial mapping of the surroundings and context, the goggles superimpose the 3D graphics so that the whole thing looks contextual.
Just like the interaction of the whale and ocean water with the basketball court in the school shown above in a video.
The MR headset connects with the source computer through Wi-Fi. The source computer processes all the computational and 3D rendering work using an MR app like Mixed Reality Portal.
Most goggles also come with spatial audio earphones so that you can experience dynamic sound that you can only experience in a real-world environment.
To enhance user experiences further, some MR setups may contain the following accessories:
- LiDAR for smartphones to create MR experience
- Treadmills, motion sensors, body suits, and cameras as input devices
- Enhanced lighting and sound systems in high-tech MR theatres
- AI-based 3D modeling in the MR software
Notable Applications of Mixed Reality
You can find extended reality applicable already in the following scenarios. Hardware and software developers are researching more scope as the technology matures:
- Businesses can market their products directly in the AR and MR gadgets of the users.
- Consumers can virtually access products from your shelves and interact with them.
- Teachers can teach students more effectively by showing 3D versions of learning content in the context of a real-world environment.
- People can go on adventures from the comfort of their homes by using MR wearables and software.
- Companies can train massive workforces from home. Then, only call those the workers who successfully pass and minimize the cost of hiring.
- According to Microsoft, Airbus is using Microsoft Hololens 2 and Azure Mixed Reality to build airplanes faster.
- Another news from Microsoft tells that the U.S. Army will use Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to produce high-tech goggles for the infantry.
- During critical surgical procedures, medical surgeons can use X-ray-powered MR headsets to visualize the internal organs of the patient more clearly than existing technologies.
- Medical colleges can start using MR headsets in practical and theoretical classes where medical students need to interact with patients’ organs in 3D space.
- Soon MR-based wearable computers will be in your hand that can superimpose to-do lists on the fridge or virtual documents on the table.
Mixed Reality Vs Augmented Reality
AR and MR share the following features:
- MR has been developed on AR. You can call MR the next iteration of AR.
- Superimposition of 3D objects in a physical environment using digital screens
- Use holographic or other 3D content
- Use headsets, controllers, and computers for content delivery in a semi-virtual environment
- Use of spatial mapping, spatial sound, etc.
Though MR has evolved from AR, there are some differences as well, and these are as below:
- In mixed realities, you can interact with the 3D object by turning, pulling apart, dissecting, wearing, repairing, and so on. On the contrary, AR will only superimpose or overlay 3D content on various environmental objects. Interaction is not available.
- MR is more advanced than AR and uses a lot of data and graphics processing power. On the other hand, AR is a relatively old technology than MR and require less hardware processing than MR.
- MR has many real-life applications in various industries. On the contrary, AR is mostly useful in entertainment, social media, and gaming.
Mixed Reality Vs Virtual Reality (VR)
Here are the technological features that MR and VR share:
- A wearable headset
- The goggles connected to a PC or smartphone
- A controller
- Haptic sensors to command the headset
Here are the points where MR and VR differ:
- MR uses extremely higher processing capabilities than VR
- MR superimposes virtual content on physical rooms, offices, gaming arenas, etc. On the other hand, VR creates a completely virtual environment where everything is computer generated.
Future of Mixed Reality
In the upcoming days, MR will become better and cheaper due to the followings:
- The widespread availability of 5G network and competitive pricing when many players come into the market
- Smartphone and tablet manufacturers will adopt Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology that enhances the AR capability of a device
- AR and hologram headsets will contain more features at a lesser price
- Businesses will have standardized the use cases and publish standard operating protocols (SOPs) for the respective industries and use cases
An Opinion on Mixed Reality: The Author’s Note
MR will spread just like the internet and smartphones. However, it will require billions in investments before the investors could see some profits.
If you are a business, you can participate in workshops and webinars to learn about use cases and business scope so that you can make a profit from the investments that are yet to come.
Similarly, if you are a fresh graduate in IT or computer science, go for certifications and skilling so that you can contribute to the development projects.
Mixed reality is a whole new concept and gaining consumers’ and investors’ trust quickly. It will transform the way we perceive entertainment, gaming, healthcare, sports, travel, shopping, workplace activities, and everything else of business interest.
To stay relevant in this field, you must also read the augmented reality trends and know the best VR headsets to experience extended reality closely.