Think of how it would feel like to exist and operate in our rapidly developing world a couple of decades ahead in the future. Imagine how much the existing technologies would have progressed by then, taking a deeper and more rooted place in our daily realities. Fantasize being equipped enough to be able to shop for a new home at any location in the world and feeling as if you were actually transported onsite or being able to head off to have dinner in someplace miles away.
While these possibilities may seem far-fetched for now, owing to the developments being steadily made in Extended Reality (XR), a term that encompasses the immersive technologies which bring together the physical and virtual realities, the chances of these fantasies becoming a reality seems more and more probable. It has been predicted that by 2022, the Extended Reality market is expected to reach $209 billion, growing eightfold from its state in 2019.
From receiving directions for the closest coffee shop that is accessible by walking distance through a pair of smart eyeglasses, or simulating a ski jump by putting on a headset, each time we undertake such activities we are adopting what is called Extended Reality (XR).
So what exactly is Extended Reality?
In layman’s terms Extended Reality (XR) is an umbrella term that incorporates all immersive technologies which we have presently, i.e Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (AR) as well as Mixed Reality (MR) as well as the ones which are yet to be developed.
Each of these immersive technologies aims to enhance our experienced reality through merging the virtual realities with the physical realities or by generating an entirely immersive experience. Extended Reality represents a permanent shift in the way people will utilize and interact with these realities and how they will become a routine and normal part of our daily lives.
The idea of Extended Reality has been toyed with for decades. In the Sci-Fi author Stanley G Weinbaum's story "Pygmalion's Spectacles" he writes about how a professor develops a pair of goggles that enable the movie audience to taste, smell as well as touch imaginary objects, interact with fictional characters and fully engage themselves and make them feel as if the story is taking place around them rather than on a screen.
In order to get some more clarity on Extended Reality let’s briefly take a look at the present immersive technologies.
Augmented reality (AR)
Augmented Reality is a technology that enhances the real world by affixing layers of digital elements onto it. These elements include computer-generated graphics, sound or video effects, haptic feedback, or sensory projects.
The intention behind adding this digital information is to provide an engaging and dynamic customer experience that is enabled with the input received from varied hardware like smart glass, smart lenses, and smartphones.
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This implies that the users are not isolated from the real world and can still interact and observe what’s taking place around them. We’ve all come across Augmented Reality at some point or the other in our lives. Be it while playing a game of Pokemon Go, amusing ourselves by clicking selfies trying out those wild Snapchat filters, or even while trying out different varieties of makeup with the L’Oreal app.
Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual Reality (VR) is the employment of computer technology to develop an artificial environment. Virtual Reality situates the user within an experience, contrary to conventional user interfaces. Rather than just glimpsing a screen in front of them, the users are engaged and allowed to converse with 3D worlds. By replicating most of the senses like vision, touch, smell, and hearing, the computer is molded to serve as a doorway into an artificial world.
Some of the popular industries which have adopted this technology include the gaming, healthcare, engineering, entertainment, construction as well as military industry.
Mixed reality (MR)
In the case of mixed reality, virtual and real-world realities exist together and can interact with each other in real-time. This latest technology can also be termed hybrid reality. This technology primarily requires an MR headset as well as a much higher degree of processing power in comparison with VR or AR. An example of Mixed Reality would be Microsoft's HoloLens, a lens that empowers the user to put digital objects around the room they are residing in and also grants the power to toy and interact with it in different ways such as by spinning it around.
Extended Reality’s Real World Applications
Areas where Extended Reality (XR) is applied
Entertainment and Gaming
One of the most crucial users of Extended Reality technology is the entertainment and the gaming industry.
- The tracking of cameras and live rendering is merged to develop an immersed virtual experience, enabling the users to experience the real feel of the situation, allowing them to enhance their performance.
- XR additionally enables multipurpose studio environments, helping to cut down the expenses of elaborate movie sets.
- The gaming sector is improved by the capacity of XR to develop an all-inclusive participation effect. This enables users to be transported into an entirely varied reality. Alongside these, various other entertainment events are also strengthened by the capacity of XR like live music and exhibitions.
Satisfy Employees and Consumers
Training: XR enables employees to be educated and prepared in low-risk and safe virtual environments. The users, like surgeons, pilots, or firefighters can imitate risky situations with minimum risk and less cost. The experience they gain from these situations will be helpful in dealing with real-life scenarios.
Information: By taking the place of physical manuals, XR can help technicians to stay fixated on the task by minimizing the necessity of having to turn manual pages. The technology can even interact and connect an expert separately to the live issue for their consultation. This can save firms a lot of expenses, as well as save them crucial downtime since they wouldn’t be required to delay and wait for experts.
Enhance customer perspective: Recreating virtual experience prompted by certain diseases and impairments can aid doctors and caregivers in receiving empathy training.
XR is enhancing healthcare by simplifying medical processes while strengthening patient care. By enabling surgeons to envision the intricacies of the organs in 3D, it aids them in preparing every step of a complex surgery beforehand. This helps in ensuring that surgeons execute surgeries in a safer, effective, and more concise way.
XR enables real estate agents as well as managers to settle deals by allowing potential buyers to experience a real feel of the place. The layout situations which are developed through XR strengthen the customer experience and simultaneously facilitate solid business opportunities.
XR allows marketers in the marketing field to facilitate their customers with a ‘try before you buy’ kind of experience. It enables customers to be taken to the place, engages them in that reality, and encourages them to survey it. For instance, Cathay Pacific adopts a 360◦ video equipped with hotspots to aid prospective customers to get a feel of the brand directly, which aids in enhancing customer awareness as well as brand stability.
Extended Reality Challenges
XR technologies are faced with various challenges they need to tackle to achieve mainstream use.
Extended Reality gathers and processes large degrees of intricate and personal data regarding what the user does, what they look at as well as their emotions, at any point of time, which prompts safety issues.
Additionally, the expense of executing the technology is high owing to which various companies will face difficulty in investing in it.
Extended Reality has the scope of permanently changing the way individuals operate, interact as well as play with each other. Extended reality will allow its users to be both physically local and simultaneously digitally global. In a span of a couple of decades, these technologies which appear as a topic of fascination now will become a norm, shifting the experiences and digital interactions of users towards completely immersive environments.
Although it is not completely determined as to how extended reality will revolutionize society, society will undoubtedly be able to embrace it. Our future marks an immersive digital experience.