What Is XR (Extended Reality), Anyway?

To put it simply, extended reality is an umbrella term for a range of different technologies that mix “meatspace” (the physical world) with the virtual. Imagine trying out how a sofa looks in your living room before buying it or creating a virtual mountain range so emergency responders can rehearse disaster scenarios in a realistic environment. XR can refer to technology that already exists as well as technology which is still being invented – which we should be able to use in the next few years.

According to P&S Intelligence, the growth in revenues in the sector is set to be phenomenal – rocketing from a mere $18.5 billion in 2019 to a projected $1,005.9 billion by 2030. So basically? Avoid it at your peril – unless you want to experience the same searing regret of someone who almost invested in bitcoins in 2013.

OK, got it! Remind me what AR (augmented reality) is, again?

One of the three existing technologies that already falls under the XR umbrella, AR is when we layer virtual elements over the real world.

Like Pokemon Go?

Exactly! That’s probably the best known example. But you might also know it from enhanced route systems, where a route is superimposed over a live view of a street. It’s also useful for educational purposes – at Pompeii in Italy, you can project an image of Pompeii as it was then over today’s ruins. So AR is effectively supplementary: the physical world is still the main focus and then you get some additional information or visuals which complement that.

And how is that different from VR (virtual reality)?

VR is entirely immersive – zero physical world, 100% virtual. So virtual reality is the use of computer technology (whether via a headset or helmet) to generate 360 degree games, videos or virtual worlds.

But wait: how does MR (mixed reality) differ from AR?

I’d argue MR is similar to augmented but it takes things one step further. In this version, virtual reality objects truly “exist” – they’re not just a visual overlay (as in AR). Much like a physical object, within mixed reality digital objects can interact with physical objects and vice versa.

You mentioned “tech we should have access to in the near-future.” Hit me with it: what do we have to look forward to in terms of XR?

Think of any way your life could be enhanced by blurring the virtual and the physical, and you’ve got a possible use case. Maybe you could watch a music documentary on your couch with your friends in Brazil, China and New York “seated” next to you.There’s obvious implications for work and studying: you could study abroad without actually doing the abroad bit; you could be trained by world specialists in your field without, say, heading all the way to China. There’s no reason why the Olympic Games couldn’t take place in VR if athletes’ movements could be tracked reliably! 

Sounds great.

It does, doesn’t it?

If you’ve got a taste for XR, we’d suggest coming to our Mixed Reality with Nreal Demo Day on March 17 where you will be able to see startup demos of MR solutions developed within the program and listen to keynotes on the future of the industry from our guests from Nreal, Qualcomm and Unity. Sign up for free tickets here.

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