Some of the big buzzwords in marketing and technology today are virtual reality and augmented reality, but one of the most interesting and useful technologies that isn’t getting as much attention is mixed reality. Mixed reality combines aspects of the virtual and real world. While that is a nice and succinct description, how does that differ from virtual and augmented reality? Virtual reality transports the user to a completely different area. The line between the real world and virtual world is extremely concrete. The difference between augmented and mixed reality is blurrier. Augmented reality overlays the real world with digital information and graphics. Mixed reality integrates digital objects and graphics into the world to make them seem “real”.
Difference Between Augmented and Mixed Reality
Before we get into clarifying the differences, let’s define what MR (Mixed-Reality) and AR (Augmented reality). “Mixed-Reality” is an overlay of synthetic content on the real world that is anchored to and interacts with the real world—picture surgeons overlaying virtual ultrasound images on their patient while performing an operation, for example. The key characteristic of MR is that the synthetic content and the real-world content are able to react to each other in real time. “Augmented-Reality” is an overlay of content on the real world, but that content is not anchored to or part of it. The real-world content and the CG content are not able to respond to each other.
To help differentiate between augmented and mixed reality, let’s use the holy grail of examples, Pokémon Go. The game introduced millions of people to augmented reality. Yes, this was augmented reality and not mixed reality. Why? Because the digital elements of the game were overlaid onto the environment instead of being integrated into the surroundings. In the game, Pokémon that appeared on the user’s mobile screen did not interact in realistic ways. Whenever a user would move their phone up and down, the Pokémon would move perfectly with the screen. This resulted in a lot of great photos of Pokémon on toilets and in cooking pans, but it was not able to truly display a mixed reality environment.
As a comparison, let’s look at how the Microsoft HoloLens is being used in the architecture space. Developers have been able to convert AutoCAD drawings and blueprints into holograms. What makes these holograms mixed reality and not augmented reality? The models interact with humans in a life-like manner. If you pick up the roof, you can see inside. If you walk closer to the hologram, it does not move like the Pokémon did. Instead, the layout gets larger and the details become clearer. This ability to interact with the hologram as if it were a physical object is the reason the technology can be called mixed reality instead of augmented reality.
Benefits of the Technology
Now the we understand the technology, what are some of the benefits that mixed reality can bring to any businesses? Like augmented and virtual reality, mixed reality can greatly improve the efficiency of collaboration. Traditional methods such as Skype and email still have limitations. With mixed reality, colleagues across the world appear in the same space via an avatar and collaborate on different projects instantaneously. The benefit of mixed reality is not solely limited to collaborative efforts. This technology can greatly enhance the way people are trained and educated. Let’s look at a medical student’s training. While augmented reality technology can allow information to simply appear on a skeleton, mixed reality allows for the information to become life-like. A student can zoom in on specific parts of the human anatomy, view individual layers, and learn about human anatomy in an entirely new way. This same principle can be adapted for training employees in manufacturing businesses to tech companies.
Whether it’s training, collaboration, or presentation, any good mixed reality system will be able to track analytics. The architecture firm will be able to track how long the client views a certain room and make immediate changes based on their recommendation. The medical instructor can monitor the progress of his students as they try to highlight and familiarize themselves with human anatomy. Managers at a technology company are able to determine whether an employee actually looked at their training materials while completing their most recent task. These analytics can make any company more knowledgeable and inform their future decisions. These are just a few of the benefits of the technology, but the list goes on and on! Although it may seem like science fiction, mixed reality technology is here to stay and will transform the way we do business!