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Mixed Reality

Abby Braden
Last Updated May 24, 2021 8:03 am

Mixed reality is the blend of physical and digital worlds to produce new environments and visualizations. Both physical and virtual items are interacted with and manipulated using next-generation sensing and imaging technologies. Mixed reality has stemmed from advancements in computer vision, graphical processing power, display technology, and input systems.

An example of mixed reality is Microsoft’s HoloLens, a pair of smart glasses that project holograms that can be manipulated and interacted with. These holograms exist in the user’s physical surroundings. The HoloLens was designed for the business environment, not for average consumers. Mixed reality is also used in design, entertainment, healthcare, military training, and remote work. There are also different display technologies that users can choose from in order to use mixed reality.

The concept of mixed reality was conceived in 1994 by Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino in the paper A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays. They described a virtual continuum that connects the physical and virtual world with displays. Since 1994, mixed reality has evolved to also include environmental input, spatial count, and location and positioning in both the physical and virtual space.

This shows an example of mixed reality.

Credit: The Franklin Institute, What is Mixed Reality (MR)?

Mixed reality vs. augmented reality vs. virtual reality

Virtual reality is an artificial environment created with computer hardware and software and presented to the user in such a way that it appears and feels like a real environment. To “enter” a virtual reality, a user dons special gloves, earphones, and/or goggles, all of which receive their input from the computer system. The user is fully immersed in a digital environment.

Augmented reality overlays computer-generated content on top of the physical world. An augmented reality system generates a composite view for the user that is the combination of the real scene viewed by the user and a virtual scene generated by the computer that augments the scene with additional information.

The virtual scene generated by the computer is designed to enhance the user’s sensory perception of the virtual world they are seeing or interacting with. Augmented reality does not account for your surroundings or interacts with physical space. The physical world simply acts as a static background.

Mixed reality is different from virtual and augmented reality in that it allows users to interact with both the real world and the virtual environment instead of depending on remote controllers or phone screens.

Examples of mixed reality

While mixed reality continues to grow and expand, its uses in various industries include:

  • Healthcare: Medical students, doctors, and surgeons are able to learn complicated surgeries, run scenarios for developing new procedures, and simulate the same conditions as an operating room to learn without the risk.
  • Education: Educators can help students learn remotely by using 3D projections and simulations.
  • Engineering: Engineers can do 3D modeling before any expense is spent on labor and materials.