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Extending reality: the rise of mixed reality and its use in business environments


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‘Augmented reality’ and ‘virtual reality’ are now commonplace in the artificial intelligence industry and as they become cheaper and more available for mass use, their popularity continues to rise. In fact, the global AR/VR market has grown to a huge $18.8 billion in 2020 as organizations and start-ups find new innovative applications.


But as both AR and VR are refined and popularized, it’s clear that the strict separation between the two is becoming blurred. This has led to the rise of something called ‘mixed reality’, which as the name suggests, is a combination of the two, and a new term ‘extended reality’, which combines AR, VR and mixed reality.


While the use of the term ‘mixed reality’ could easily be dismissed as another marketing ploy to give older concepts a new spin, this assessment entirely misses the mark. The reason it deserves its own place in the sun is simply because it provides a new solution to existing problems. Mixed reality is an answer to the limitations of both AR and VR, resulting in a more engaging and useful experience that enhances our current surroundings. Moreover, extended reality – the use of these tools in combination – is increasingly proving its value in business.


What are the limitations of augmented reality and virtual reality?

Let’s imagine augmented reality and vitality as the same concept, but existing at separate ends of a spectrum. Although both of them involve changing our current reality through digital means, the approaches have nothing to do with each other. At one end, you have virtual reality, which presents an entirely different reality to the one you currently inhabit. And on the other end of the spectrum, we have augmented reality, which gives us a view of the physical world but changed (or augmented) through a digital environment, most commonly using a screen.


As an entirely immersive experience, virtual reality has a number of applications. Its initial reputation as an entertainment-based technology is no more, as it’s used in everything from recruitment and pain management to education – to name just a few. But the downside of virtual reality is the extent to which the environment is controlled, as there is no space for our everyday reality at all. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of deal and it’s much too detached when we want to apply it to real-world situations.


Finding a home on the other end of the spectrum, augmented reality is simply our current world but with a few, supplementary digital additions. There have been a few famous examples of augmented reality, from the short-lived 2016 Pokemon Go craze to devices such as Google Glass. As with virtual reality, there are less-known but equally innovative applications of the technology that are changing sectors.


Where virtual reality is too extreme in certain circumstances, augmented reality has the opposite issue. Frankly, it can be a little underwhelming as our current reality is dominant throughout the experience. It’s rarely anything more than a supplement and for more complex situations or problem-solving, it isn’t up to the task.


A meeting in the middle

By merging the best of each technology, we’re able to produce a hybrid reality that is both immersive and informative. It allows us to better collaborate, innovate and project future possibilities.


One of the main benefits of mixed reality is how naturally it complements your current environment to give you a more user-friendly experience, providing relevant data or alternate realities as and when needed. The first product that offered these possibilities came in 2016 with Microsoft’s Hololens, a computer built into a visor that changed the world around you. Even with a few drawbacks – chiefly a limited field of vision – the Hololens was positively received, especially with regard to its incredible potential.


In the Mashable review of the Hololens above, the author talks about playing a few different games using the technology. But the truth is entertainment is nothing more than an afterthought with the mixed reality headset. In fact, with a hefty price tag of $3,500 for the newest edition, marketing to general consumers is the last thing on Microsoft’s mind with this product. Instead, they are more focused on business applications.


Use in the real world

As with VR and AR, the way mixed and extended reality can be used is limited only by imagination, and within an innovative start-up environment this means the applications are boundless. From healthcare innovations to more personalized training experiences, mixed and extended reality is proving to be a game-changer.


The Collider start-up Mental XR offers a powerful example of how extended reality – the blending of AR, VR and MR – can be used in the very near future. Mental XR’s use of extended reality offers hope of a breakthrough in the diagnosis and treatment of neuro-cognitive issues in children with fetal alcohol syndrome. Their solutions, aimed at health professionals, include diagnostic tools and a suite for treatment and neurocognitive stimulation which uses virtual reality.


In commercial environments, engineers can be guided step-by-step through a fix by the tech, complete with visual, color-coded indications of what needs to be done. On a construction site, the finished building can be seen in front of you, allowing you to better plan where you locate materials, organize your workforce, etc.


Beyond the applications in healthcare or commercial settings, mixed reality is also increasingly useful in the highly collaborative, initial phases of a start-up. This is something we’re convinced of at The Collider. Whether in our role supporting high-potential deep tech initiatives that specialize in mixed reality or offering the technology as a development tool, the potential of MR is becoming clearer to us every day.


So, it’s time to stop thinking in polar terms of augmented reality and virtual reality. Because mixed and extended reality are the future – and at The Collider, the future has already arrived.


The Collider: pioneering tech transfer

The Collider is a venture-building programme that works hard to bridge the gap between science, corporates and entrepreneurship. This innovation project encourages tech-transfer initiatives to connect science and entrepreneurial talent and create disruptive, technology-based start-ups. The Collider is powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, a tech-focused initiative that aims to drive the digital transformation of society to help improve people’s lives globally.