Wednesday, November 2, 2016

VR, AR...MR?

Oculus Rift VR headset
Virtual Reality (VR) is an amazing technology. Strap on a headset that gives you 360 degrees of "surround vision" and you are instantly immersed in a virtual world. The real world is blocked out, enabling you to feel like you are somewhere else.

Haptic feedback, audio, and even touch sensors make you feel as if you have left reality for this new virtual experience: Mars, the Mariana Trench, or wherever your fancy takes you.
Microsoft's VR HoloLens

Augmented Reality (AR) combines virtual elements with the real world. For example, Pokemon Go players see the characters on their phone screens (via the camera), as if the characters are actually there.

Don a headset, such as Microsoft's HoloLens and you can see and interact with digital representations overlayed on your own reality. You can shoot aliens as they storm down your hallway, or you can see that 3D model you've designed in CAD software in front of your eyes in all dimensions. You can even throw virtual basketballs to other HoloLens users across the globe, as if you were in the same room.

If VR brings you into new environments and if AR overlays virtual elements on your real environment, what is MR?

Mixed Reality (MR) is a step beyond VR and AR. The brainchild of Magic Leap's Rony Abovitz, MR uses a technology that makes virtual objects come to life. Imagine a virtual assistant that stands in front of you as if actually there, converses with you, takes instructions, and reports back to you when the task is done.

MR enables you to link to any gadget or device (real or virtual). MR is always aware of your surroundings, who's in the room, and where things are located so that virtual objects are always in a logical space. For example, your virtual assistant won't walk through a real person standing beside you.

All of this computing power must come together with some serious headgear, right? Not so. The entire MR experience will be able to fit in a pair of glasses. And because it projects directly onto your retina, you experience MR through your eyes, not a screen. This is in stark contrast to VR and AR.

From Business Insider
No wonder Magic Leap, the world's most secretive start-up, has raised billions in funding from all the top-tier VCs (and Google et al.) As soon as they experienced MR, they knew the technology would be a game changer.

Rony Abovitz claims that MR will revolutionize the way we interact with the world and our environment. Computer displays - and screens of all sorts - will be a thing of the past. Your phone, TV, PC, tablet, smart-watch, e-reader, mp3 player, and fitness tracker will all be virtual gear that you conjure up when you need to. No more physical gadgets? Goodbye to the gazillion dollar tech device industry.

If Magic Leap's Mixed Reality technology delivers what they say it will, it's all over for every Virtual and Augmented Reality technology company out there today.

For an in-depth look at MR, see this Forbes article by David M. Ewalt.


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