Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) are both considered immersive technologies, but they aren’t the same. Mixed reality is an extension of augmented reality that allows real and virtual elements to interact in an environment.
While many people have heard of virtual reality, the other “reality”—augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR)—aren’t as widely understood. So, with this article I aim to address this and explain, in simple terms, the difference between augmented reality and mixed reality. As the use of augmented and mixed reality will grow it will significantly improve everyone’s understanding of the technology.
Augmented Reality (AR)
When you interact with virtual reality, you are completely immersed in a digital environment. In augmented reality, virtual information is overlaid on the real world, so the experience isn’t completely immersive. Digital details such as images, text and animation augment or enhance the real world the individual is experiencing.
While many people were first exposed to augmented reality during the rampant popularity of the mobile game Pokémon GO or when using philtres on Instagram or Snapchat, there are many uses for augmented reality beyond gaming and fun. Industries such as healthcare, aviation, automotive and more are exploring ways augmented reality can support operations. Retailer IKEA has an augmented reality app that allows shoppers to see what furniture will look like in their homes by placing virtual versions onto their living spaces via the app. AR diagnostic tools are helping medical professionals model diseases in a hospital setting while pilots get flight data projected in their line of sight from their helmets courtesy of augmented reality.
The travel and tourism industry enhances travellers’ experiences with augmented reality technology as well. Augmented reality can give people more information about the buildings, landmarks and attractions they walk by when taking a tour. With an AR app installed on a device, all tour groups need to do is point their device at the building or attraction to get more information. Curious what a restaurant serves for dinner? An AR app can provide this information to prospective diners when they point their device at the restaurant. AR technology can help businesses in travel and tourism provide a better experience for their guests.
The enhancements of augmented reality are enabled via devices such as heads-up displays, smartphones, tablets, smart lenses and AR glasses, but smartphones are typically the AR device used by most who have experienced AR thus far. AR apps are created by developers who often use ARKit by Apple and Google’s ARCore.
While augmented reality allows virtual info to be overlaid on a real environment, users can’t interact with it like they would be able to in real life. This capability is reserved for a mixed reality environment.
Mixed Reality (MR)
Mixed reality technology allows real and virtual elements to interact with one another and the user to interact with virtual elements like they would in the real world. Since mixed reality maintains a connexion to the real world it is not considered a fully immersive experience. In a mixed reality environment, wherever you go and look when wearing MR technology, the 3D content that you encounter in the space will react to you the same as it would in the real world. For example, an object will move closer to you when you move closer to it and you can interact with it, e.g. Turn an object using gestures. Several companies are working on mixed reality technology and have MR products including Microsoft’s HoloLens, Lenovo Explorer, Samsung Odyssey and Acer Windows Mixed Reality.
Since mixed reality is the newest immersive technology, its use cases aren’t as widely developed. However, Microsoft hopes the latest iteration of its HoloLens will help many businesses improve employee communication, collaboration and learning experiences as well as other business applications. Car manufacturer Ford uses mixed reality technology to prototype vehicles in a virtual environment. It’s expected that mixed reality applications will help companies with engineering and design modelling, in sales and even with employee training and education and more.
How does mixed reality work? There must be an MR device, either a headset or translucent glasses, to create the experience. Using a lot more processing power than either virtual or augmented reality, mixed reality technology joins the virtual and real worlds into one connected experience with the help of either gaze/gesture/voice recognition technology through a headset or a pair of motion controllers.
Since mixed reality takes the best aspects from virtual reality and augmented reality to create the latest iteration of immersive technologies, have we achieved the pinnacle experience with mixed reality? One way forward would be to create technology that merges virtual, augmented and mixed realities into one system in which a person will be able to switch back and forth between depending on use cases.
I help companies understand the potential impact of new technologies as well as the business opportunities they bring. I have a lot more articles on MR, VR and AR. For more on augmented, virtual and mixed reality cheque out this section of my website, or check out this page for the other major tech trends transforming businesses today.