What Is Mixed Reality, Anyway?

If you care about the future of entertainment; of teaching; of getting to communicate via hologram like in Star Wars — basically, if you care about the future, period, then you should care about mixed reality. We think it’s essential, which is why, on May 28th, we launched a mixed reality program which will run until October in partnership with Nreal, who create wearables specifically designed for mixed reality applications.

Like anything that’s new and hyped, mixed reality can feel bewildering if you’re not working in the field. Let’s break it down.

(And if you’re a startup working in the field and you want to apply, scroll down. We’d love to hear from you!)

“Mixed Reality” feels like a bit of a buzzword at the moment – but what does it actually mean?

Mixed reality is a category of augmented reality which melds the virtual world with the physical world, via visual overlays of information and content. We access this using dedicated devices like mixed reality glasses or even just a regular smartphone.

Fascinating in theory, but what does that mean in practice? So, to take an example from real life — the humble phone shopping experience. Imagine I go to a phone store one day wearing my mixed reality glasses. I find a silver phone — I’m not so keen on the color and I want to see other variations. There’s no need for me to send the salesperson to the back room to search for other colors of the same phone because my mixed reality glasses allow me to see the phone in all available colors in holograms next to the original phone. 

The price would be displayed just above the phone and would remain in the same spot (much like a physical object). A mixed-reality system understands where the floors are, where the walls are and is able to add digital objects in relation to those things. 

OK, got it. So what’s stopping mixed reality from already being absolutely everywhere?

The real challenge for mixed reality at the moment is hardware. Compared to virtual reality, it’s much more difficult to create devices that have to provide a similar quality of generated content, while understanding their surroundings in much more detail, combining a real-world image with digital objects and being lightweight for use when someone is on the go. Right now smartphones are the most popular MR devices, but they are far from perfect for mixed reality. 

We think Nreal might offer a solution to this, since they offer mixed reality glasses that are smartphone-powered and lightweight. This is why we’ve partnered with them on our program.

Nreal Light, the new smartphone-powered, lightweight, mixed reality glasses from Nreal deal with these challenges very well. That is the reason we believe this might be a significant step in making true mixed reality available to the mass market.

You mentioned that in terms of hardware, Nreal Light is something completely new — what key advantages does it offer customers?

I guess the simplest summary would be that it combines the sophistication and capabilities of high end devices with the advantages of being handily small in size and affordable in price. We’re talking about a mixed reality device roughly similar in size to regular glasses. This was achieved by moving the computing tasks (and power source) to a computer everyone carries with them anyway – a smartphone. 

It’s worth mentioning that if an application requires even more processing power, it can utilize mobile operator’s edge computing resources. In this case, practically limitless performance is made available to the device with minimal latency. Deutsche Telekom has been heavily involved in development and deployment of this technology. It was successfully tested and prototypes have been built using this technology. 

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Sounds ideal! You say mixed reality is the future and I’ve heard lots about it in the entertainment sector. But where else can we find it and what is it used for?

In terms of where you’d find it outside of entertainment, some of these use cases fall into already existing augmented reality scenarios, e.g. training, tutorials, step-by-step guidance, navigation. Others create completely new classes of software, e.g. retailers offer applications that allow customers to see the product in its context before they commit to buying it – you could see a piece of furniture in your living room at home, or a pair of shoes on your feet etc. 

The use case that most people would probably like to experience is hologram-like communication. A user could put on mixed reality glasses, join a call and experience conversation just as if the other person was in the same room. We’re not far from that and with clever use of existing technology, this could become reality very soon. One of my favourite examples, and something that we have already worked on, is mixed reality in sports. Imagine watching a live game in a stadium but with relevant supplementary information appearing in your line of sight like a virtual version of the offside rule in football, for example.

The hologram use sounds fantastic (and honestly, infinitely superior to video calls) but it still sounds further off. How will the average reader be most likely to come into contact with mixed reality in 2020?

Most of us can already experience this technology using our smartphones. But you can find it elsewhere, too. Some car manufacturers already offer car navigation that combines front camera view with directions in the form of floating indicators just above the road. TV news presents facts with rich visual aids that can put the presenter in the center of a computer-generated scene. When watching sports, even on TV, some of the information presented to the user is computer-generated, perfectly synced with the footage. All of that is basically the same concept – enriching the real world with additional content.

If I’m a reader who’s involved in a mixed reality startup, how can I work on this topic with hubraum?

Your timing is exquisite: hubraum is launching a mixed reality program and we’re taking applications now — we hope to recruit at least ten startups. These ten startups will get access to Developer Kits as well as support from both DT and Nreal during the app design and development processes. We’ve already been working together with Nreal for some time and now we’d like to invite developers to join us in creating a new generation of mixed reality consumer applications. 

Nreal Light is now available for developers and will be available to end customers soon. As such, we’d like to offer opportunities and support to those who would like to get to work on their applications.

There are three categories which you can apply within:

  • Entertainment 

Think: games or interactive stories which harness mixed reality for a higher level of immersion and collaboration eg. using lightweight glasses instead of a smartphone. Or surprise us with something completely different!

  • Productivity

Your idea uses mixed reality to make everyday life or specific daily tasks easier and more fun. It might also be worth thinking about collaboration: how could mixed reality spaces help with certain challenges?

  • Far-reaching concepts

As when pioneering any new technology, experimentation is key. We’re looking for the most creative and ambitious ideas which push the boundaries of what mixed reality could mean. In a nutshell, we’re looking for an out-there idea with a big wow factor.

Ready to apply or just want more details? Click here for more.

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