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Real deal: Mixed reality moves from fantasy world to business world

Before the onset of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), our view and sight of everyday life were just, well, everyday ordinary. We first started to experience things virtually in a digital environment through virtual reality. Soon after that, virtual-world technologies started to pace up and made it possible to integrate real-time environment with the digital information in the form of augmented reality. Virtual reality and augmented reality have proved that they have the potential to change the way businesses and enterprises use technology. And now there’s excitement brewing about a technology that can be considered a hybrid of both VR and AR. Let’s look at mixed reality as it seamlessly integrates both these technologies.

Evolution of mixed reality from VR and AR

It is through virtual reality that we are able to experience and view things that don’t exist. VR has numerous applications and uses in various sectors including IT, infrastructure, construction, medicine, home renovations, and more.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is capable of integrating real-world objects with digital information or imagery on a device. Augmented reality is also being incorporated in various sectors and can be an effective means for giving presentations. AR has the potential to revamp existing navigation systems, which will make it easier to reach your destination through a live view. Other sectors that can benefit from augmented reality are maintenance and repair sector, military, medicine, and gaming — Pokémon Go, for instance, used AR to create an international sensation with its app.

Virtual reality has nothing to do with the physical world: Everything you see and experience is a visual projection using certain equipment and devices such as a VR headset and a source such as a laptop or a mobile. Augmented reality takes a portion of the physical world into consideration and projects the digital data. But both VR and AR lack the ability to effectively merge the real and digital worlds. This essentially paved the way for the development of mixed reality, which enables a user to interact with digital objects in the real world.

Mixed reality

Because it is a hybrid of VR and AR, mixed reality can be far more powerful than both those technologies. It is capable of creating an unbelievably realistic digital environment in the physical world. Unlike VR and AR, mixed reality lets you see the real world around you.

Mixed reality doesn’t just overlay digital information in the real world, but it rather projects three-dimensional virtual objects that look like physical objects. These virtual 3D objects can be controlled, and users can interact with these objects. Therefore, the key characteristic or the stand-out feature of mixed reality is its ability to integrate synthetic (virtual) content and real-world (physical) content in real time.

Hardware for mixed reality is typically head-mounted gear, which consists of a set of sensors, advanced optics, digital projectors, and its own processing and storage units. The designed application is installed in the gear. When turned on, digital projections are made in the real world, which are aligned in accordance with the user’s vision and actions using the sensors. Users can view, interact, mold, and assemble/disassemble the objects projected based on the application running. Microsoft’s HoloLens is one of the most well-known of the mixed reality gear. Microsoft has already released its development edition in the market and anyone can contribute in building mixed reality apps for HoloLens. And Microsoft has also recently released new products and a new strategy as it gets very serious about mixed reality.

Mixed reality for business

With the growing applications and uses of these non-physical realities, enterprise-level implementation has already started taking its form. Mixed reality is geared up to completely redefine the way an enterprise works. Processes are going to be streamlined, and the way employees engage with their work is going to take an all-new form.

Mixed reality experience can provide enterprise employees with the best of both digital and physical world. It is through mixed reality that users can view digital objects in the actual surrounding, allowing voice-based or gesture inputs for interaction.

Here is the possible scope and applications of mixed reality in businesses:

Remote guidance

In fields such as medicine, infrastructure, operations, sales, and business, tapping into the expertise of professionals or experts is vital. There might be various situations when an enterprise needs an expert on site to deal with complex issues. But this can be costly, and the expert may have a tight schedule that makes it difficult to come to your office. This can be mitigated with mixed reality, as experts can give instructions or advice to deal with the issue even if they are not onsite. One possible example is an experienced surgeon giving guidance to the available medical staff at the hospital in carrying out an emergency operation.

Real-time training

Training and education stand out as one of the most important applications of mixed reality. It allows an enterprise to train newly recruited staff in a real-world training scenario through MR. Mixed reality makes it really easy to understand and analyze the topic. For example, understanding an industrial plant can now be done in a classroom, without having to visit the site. Similarly, a car’s engine can be easily understood through MR, without even having a real engine onsite.

In addition to this, the huge capital outlay and costs involved in training can be brought down to a great extent. And there are safety benefits: Employees can get real-time exposure to potentially dangerous situations with no practical risks or challenges involved.

Reports and analytics

Through mixed reality, business leaders or concerned teams can simultaneously view and analyze business trends through real-time reports and analysis. Through gesture or voice-based inputs, users can design process flows and get the reports and analytics on the changes made.

Operations

Operations in any business refer to the employees devoted to the production or delivery of services and products. Operations plays a vital role in various sectors including IT, banking, food service, and the retail industry. By implementing mixed reality, companies can boost employee productivity and streamline operations. Field service employees, technicians, factory workers, and system operators can manage operations in a much better way using mixed reality.

Prototyping

Mixed reality has the ability to completely redefine prototyping at an enterprise level. The UI and UX workflows will not just be confined to flowcharts and sample image models, rather they can be brought to real life through mixed reality applications. End users or clients can also view the real-time flow of the product using MR projections. This way, costs involved in various phases of development can be brought down along with the making of better prototypes.

Apart from these, better communication and collaboration, effective results, and reduced costs and time are few other essential advantages of implementing mixed reality in business.

Considering all the applications and advantages of mixed reality, businesses should be embracing it. Many leading enterprises and organizations have already started implementing mixed reality to find possible ways to integrate it into their business processes and operations. If mixed reality is properly adopted and implemented at an enterprise level, mankind can soon witness the biggest fundamental shift in the way we interact with machines. Instead of using keyboards, mouse, or any other physical device to interact with the systems, we will be using holograms or virtual input systems.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Sukesh Mudrakola

Sukesh is a computer science graduate by profession and an IT enterprise and tech enthusiast by passion. He holds an expertise in mobile and wearable technologies and is an avid Android fan.

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Sukesh Mudrakola

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