We are now living very digital lives. Nearly 4 billion people worldwide are mobile users, actively using smartphones every day. The number of mobile users continues to grow, with companies like Facebook prioritising bringing internet access to all corners of the globe.

A little over twenty years ago, mobile phones weren’t a daily necessity for most people. Technology’s growth is rapid, and it’s not unforeseeable to expect that modern life and technology will look significantly different twenty to thirty years from now.

The rapid rise of immersive experience mediums like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) is shaping where technology is headed to next. Where VR and AR are informational and consumed on screens, the next wave of immersive experiences is shifting towards something more experiential.

Instead of bringing more of the physical world into our digital screens, technology is primed to take digital data and place them in our actual environment through Mixed Reality.

What is Mixed Reality?

Mixed Reality (MR) is a combination of multiple advanced technologies, primarily Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

To understand Mixed Reality, let’s differentiate VR and AR:

Virtual Reality: using VR devices, the user’s current reality is replaced within the virtual world. It doesn’t account for the user’s immediate surroundings, thus it is usually recommended to use VR technology in spacious environments where the user won’t accidentally bump into something in the physical space. By design, it isolates the user from their context in order to provide an immersive experience. Current examples of VR devices in the market are the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Augmented Reality: this technology usually just roughly overlays digital content on top of the real world. It doesn’t account for your surroundings, nor interacts with your space. Simply AR rests on top of any surface, with the physical world acting as a static background for it. Examples of AR devices recently developed were the Google Glass and Snapchat’s Spectacles.

Unlike AR that simply overlays digital elements on the physical space without considering its unique and changing composition, MR devices constantly gather information about the surroundings. This information will then be used in order to seamlessly place digital content and information on the physical space and allows the user to interact with it as though it.

Unlike VR, you don’t disappear into the digital world, the digital world goes to you.

Mixed Reality may sound like brand new, futuristic technology that is still decades away from being a reality. In fact, MR has been around since the 1990s as a term coined to explore the potential of combining both virtual and augmented reality together.

Even augmented and virtual reality are not brand new, despite their commercial use and applications as of recent.  In fact, both VR and AR technology can be traced back to the 1960s.

Today, Mixed Reality is a technology that is quickly making its way into mainstream use. Microsoft’s Hololens is a well-known example of an existing, commercially available Mixed Reality device. It is a holographic computer you wear around your head, with lenses over your eyes that project holograms you can manipulate and interact with as though they existed in your physical surroundings.

It features 3 sensors and 5 cameras that constantly learn your 3D surroundings, and can even remember where you place digital elements in your physical space so that when you use the system again, your windows and apps will be right where you left them.

While Hololens operates on the Windows system and offers applications and software you can interact with as though you would on a touch screen, Meta 2 is an MR device that allows users to interact with virtual objects as they would if they were physical objects.

These two are just examples of MR technology that currently exists, and gives us insight on what the technology can do now, and what it can potentially do in the future.

Mixed Reality in the Real World

The possibilities and implications of Mixed Reality’s continuous growth demonstrates that the future of MR is both realistic and limitless.

While we can only predict where MR can take us next, its benefits and uses in various industries today and in the near future are astounding:

Healthcare and Medicine

Mixed Reality simulations are already helping medical students understand their patients better, particularly those who are hearing and visually-impaired. Through MR technology, how these patients experience the real world are simulated, leading to greater empathy and understanding from medical practitioners.

Doctors—and surgeons, in particular— are able to learn complicated surgeries and develop cutting-edge procedures. They can run scenarios and simulate the same conditions in the operating room, allowing them to plan and predict outcomes.

Through MR, first responders can also better prepare for work scenarios safely and without risk, making them better prepared for these stressful situations. MR also helps PTSD patients through controlled exposure in a safe environment and at their own pace.

Education

Experiential education is one of the most effective learning and teaching tools. Through Mixed Reality, students are able to interact with what they’re learning unlike ever before. It’s not just visual, audio, or traditional learning methods that will enable students to learn, but actual experiences that promote deeper, immersive learning.

Mixed Reality may also be used in the future to expand on Virtual Reality’s work with immersing people in different cultures, raising awareness to causes in a way that bolsters greater empathy. People will be able to learn about other cultures, social, political, and economic concerns in near first-hand experience through Mixed Reality.

Gaming

There is great potential for Mixed Reality in gaming, unlocking an experience that combines the intense and impressive worlds in video games into the actual environment. It has the potential to gamify fitness, as Augmented Reality had done as evidenced by the Pokemon Go phenomenon.

With digital elements being embedded in the actual environment, people will be motivated to physically move to access digital content and experience them hands-free, instead of simply looking at screens on handheld devices.

Retail and Business

Many possibilities await businesses when they make use of Mixed Reality technologies. Companies are now maximising VR and AR, like providing augmented reality maps to customers for better understanding and access to their stores.

With MR, stores can give customers unprecedented information as they walk through the aisles, empowering customers to make informed and confident purchases without the need for assistance. They can also experience a product or a service before purchasing.

Mixed Reality will unlock a whole new way for people to experience the world, which could mean new products and goods for companies to develop and offer. Just like today’s trend of microtransactions and in-app purchases, businesses can sell virtual wares to populate this mixed reality world.

The Future of MR

Imagine being able to try out clothes before shopping for them online, testing out if a wallpaper will look good in your environment before applying it, or virtual labels around your home reminding you of where you left your keys.

Tech giants like Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft are already pouring resources on developing Mixed Reality technologies. Apple has patented many MR technologies, with Samsung and Facebook getting in on the ground floor. There’s a lot of buzz and excitement about Magic Leap’s MR application of projecting light straight into the retina.

The future of Mixed Reality may mean that we will only need a single device to replace our screens. This will bring forth new ways to create content, as well as new ways of consuming them. As with other great technological disruptions that have changed our current way of life, Mixed Reality will create more industries and more jobs.

Mixed Reality will unlock a future where our natural world and powerful digital information meets. In a few years, we will see it mature and be nearly invisible to the user, blending seamlessly into the human experience.

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