Lately, Mixed Reality (MR) has been a recurring topic in the technology landscape. Though people are intrigued by the concept alone, not many understand it. For some, it is an advanced form of Augmented Reality, whereas others consider it to be an extension of Virtual Reality.

However, that doesn’t stop people from investing, let alone exploring the technology. Market research predicts that the global mixed reality market would grow at a massive rate with an expected  CAGR of 44.5%. With the current valuation at US$ 811.33 Mn, the total revenue from the market is expected to reach US$ 15421.99 Mn by 2029. source

It is safe to say that Mixed Reality technology has the potential to disrupt the market as one of the most rapidly growing solutions of all time. Having said that, let’s understand what exactly the technology is and how it differs from the existing reality technologies, AR and VR.

Defining the term – Mixed Reality?

As the term suggests, Mixed Reality is the perfect blend of augmented reality and virtual reality, breaking the borders between the physical world and the digital world. It offers an exhaustive real-time immersive experience where the users get to interact with the virtual world without getting detached from the real world. In an ideal sense, Mixed Reality brings the best of both worlds with the essence of a natural surrounding blended within the digital environment. 

Mixed Reality is the next wave of digital disruption after PCs, Smartphones and tablets 

Tracing its roots, the term “mixed reality” was first seen in a document published in 1994. Known as “A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays”, researchers Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino introduced the concept of a reality-virtuality (RV) continuum and coined Mixed Reality. Since then, it has served as a seminal work for further dialogues around this technology.

Mixed Reality Spectrum

Remarkably, Mixed Reality blends the physical and virtual realities to create an immersive experience. It was first mentioned in the research papers by Milgram and Kishino that also talked about a linear spectrum called the Virtuality Continuum. Its polar ends signify the physical reality on one and the digital reality on the other. Everything that lies between these ends is where Mixed Reality operates, and hence is called a Mixed Reality spectrum.

Most VR and AR experiences known today are a small part of the larger Mixed Reality spectrum. While Augmented Reality can be placed closer to the end with physical reality in the spectrum, Virtual Reality finds itself closer to the virtual end. Simply said, a combination or hybrid of these reality technologies constitutes the Mixed reality experience as demonstrated by the continuum of virtuality. An experience that lies between both ends, and does not simply augment the physical reality but creates a new experiential environment.

How does Mixed Reality work?

While the concept of mixed reality technology seems intriguing and the fact that enterprises across industries are rapidly adopting the technology, it becomes important to know and understand how the technology works. Moreover, the development of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and advanced input methods brings all attention to cutting-edge interactive technologies.

Talking about mixed reality and its working, the technology leverages AI-enhanced sensors, cameras, GPUs, and rugged processors to process, analyse and create virtually-enhanced experiences. Supported by head-mounted displays or a true mixed-reality headset, the cameras and sensors work with artificial intelligence to gather information about the surroundings and create a virtual map of it which is then used to add holographic projections into the world. Sensors, cameras, controllers, etc are all the input devices that facilitate the detection of objects in real time to recreate the same in the virtual world. 

The quality of the environment created largely depends on the device and its features. Devices equipped with high-end graphics and computing power are more prone to rendering high-fidelity MR experiences, thereby enhancing the end user’s immersive experience. 

MR vs AR vs VR

Understanding what mixed reality is and how it works, it now brings us to the question- how is mixed reality different from augmented reality and virtual reality? But before that, let’s have a quick look at what AR and VR are.

Augmented reality or AR is the superimposition of digital objects in the real world. This is done with the help of an AR device wherein the device scans the physical environment, and based on the configuration, overlays 3D objects in the selected space in real-time. An AR device can either be your smartphone, tablets, or dedicated augmented reality glasses. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is another form of reality technology that teleports the user to a virtual environment, detaching him/her from the actual physical world. To truly experience the virtual world, one must have virtual reality headsets worn. With this, the user is digitally ported to the virtual environment, creating a sense of immersion and engagement with this computer-generated environment.

Put simply, the idea of augmented reality is to facilitate interaction with digital objects, whereas virtual reality tends to create an immersive experience for the end user. Shifting the focus to mixed reality, mixed reality experiences involve concepts of both AR and VR in a single environment, that is it not only teleports the user to the virtual environment(VR) but also facilitates interaction with physical objects (AR) while still being in the virtual world. 

However, there still lies confusion on how mixed reality is different from augmented reality. The fact that both of these enable overlaying or embedding digital world elements into the physical environment, the two are considered to be the same. But that isn’t true, in fact, there is an unmistakable distinction between the two. AR overlays a stratum of perception on real-world elements while keeping the physical world central and enhancing it with digital objects. On the contrary, Mixed Reality brings together both the physical and virtual worlds, making real-time interaction and manipulation possible.

Mixed reality not only embeds digital elements over real-world scenes but also makes the entire experience immersible and interactive. It is like having one foot in the virtual world and another in the physical environment, breaking down the barriers of real and imaginary. At its length, Mixed Reality can be called enhanced or evolved Augmented Reality but not the same

Need for Mixed Reality

Being one of the most flexible technologies to date, Mixed Reality offers countless opportunities for innovation, expansion and growth. Bridging the gap between the digital and the real world, MR opens up a new dimension of reality for all. 

Mixed Reality is expected to aid innovation without wasted effort. Tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, and Samsung are actively investing in MR, hinting at the potential MR holds for the future. With mixed reality coming into play, the conventional methods of learning would take a back seat. As a matter of fact, this is notably one of the most striking benefits of MR. 

While enterprise-oriented activities would also advance with mixed reality applications (starting with cross-team collaboration, design and manufacturing, prototyping and visualization, marketing and sales, etc), the impact of mixed reality applications in the training and development sector is bound to be at the apex. And why not, empower trainees with the ease to learn in real-time, undergo hands-on training, practice unlimited times and all of this without spending on resources and consumables, mixed reality is for sure shaping the future of the learning ecosystem. 

The question that stands today isn’t why but when

Future of Mixed Reality?

Just like smartphones transformed our lives back in the day by making already existing tech accessible to all, MR is following in the same footsteps. It holds the potential to give the world a pristine view and way of interactive learning.

Various reports suggest that more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have started moving towards extended reality as a one-stop solution. The pandemic has done nothing but helped the cause by accelerating its growth and creating greater awareness about reality technologies and the importance of being digitally connected in our day-to-day lives. What’s interesting is that the technology in itself has been evolving with the integration of 5G, AI, and robust hardware, indicating that there’s more to its reality than what meets the eye.

Conclusion

With a bright future ahead, Mixed Reality promises a tomorrow based on a newly-created environment for productivity, collaboration, and interaction. It is not like anything seen ever before. The potential to enhance learning experiences, strengthen human interactions, and empower better communication- all by staying in the environment of their choice- makes Mixed Reality the disruptive powerhouse everyone should try their hands on.

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