By Rajalakshmi M.

This article is reproduced from GAVS’ enGAge magazine, Jan 2018 edition.

The name “Pokemon GO” is sure to take you back to last July. The game which has a record number of downloads across both Android and iOS, made Niantic Inc a household name in a short span of time. The game went on to break many records and took Augmented reality to the next level. Its explosion paved the way for something that would blend the virtual world into everyday lives to help develop the concept of Mixed Reality.

The success of such games, and further the muted response to Virtual Reality throws a fundamental question at the digital world? Has the world come to a state of coexistence with what we know to be “virtual”? The answer to this is Mixed Reality.

In a modified Augmented Reality, though you can see your Pikachu, it would look different from different angles. That means not only is the digital world superimposed in the real world, there is an actual interaction between the two. But where are we technologically in achieving this dream- the Mixed Reality?

The first to come was VR- Virtual Reality-The 3D world created by the programmer which can be explored and interacted with by a person by immersing herself/himself to achieve it. Now it seems cool and all, but where is the fun if real world and virtual world are disjoint sets. Then comes the idea of AR –  Augmented Reality- Yes, A 3D programmer’s world but it supplements the real world, but the user remains in the real world. And then comes the mother of all realities MR- Mixed reality- There is not just the 3D Programmer’s world, but also the real world and they could superimpose on each other and interact with each other. And it could be immersive or non-immersive. Thus, Mixed Reality is a superset of all realities and it could be any point between the extremes of the reality-virtuality continuum.

The market research firm MarketsandMarkets has published a report that goes onto say that the combined markets of VR and AR alone would be worth a whopping $160 bn by the end of 2022.They also go on to say that the size of the Mixed Reality market will also be around the $453.4 mn by the end of 2020. The current enterprise use of Augmented Reality includes the areas of visualization, training and interaction. Consider the use of AR by AccuVein. They use the technology to convert the heat signature of patient’s veins into an image that is superimposed on the skin, for easy location of veins by the clinicians. The likelihood of a successful needle stick on first try has improved by around 3 times and the need for further assistance has reduced by 45%.  The field of training has had a sort of revolution. Real-time, on-site, step-by-step visual guidance on tasks such as product assembly, machine operation and warehouse picking has helped the manufacturing employee walkthrough the processes in a 3D way instead of the usual 2D schematics or videos. Boeing reports that trainees completed the work in 35% less time when AR was used to guide them through 50 steps for assembly of 30 parts in aircraft wing. GE has made its factory workers test the interactive voice commands of AR and has reported a productivity increase by 34% in its tests.

These are the small successes with just superimposition of images. Now imagine if there was context. Imagine if a person is training to become a clinician had access to the virtual vein of the actual vein being targeted by the clinician at AccuVein and could see in real time what was happening? And if the trainee could stick the needle and then see how it all went? What if the Boeing trainees could train initially just with the virtual parts and see how the virtual aircraft flew in actual reality? And maybe to the miner who was standing 100s of feet down needed some help with the mining equipment. If an expert could get a remote access to the real time virtual mining equipment and then recommend the action? And what if the floor supervisor wanted real time visualisation of performance of equipment on the floor? Maybe all he needs to it touch a few buttons on the equipment panel and 3D representation of its performance? And what about cadaver less medical schools? And what if Sherlock Holmes could recreate his mind palace in his room? This is application of enterprise mixed reality.

The technology for mixed reality is still at a nascent stage. It means immense progress in the fields of Image recognition and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping(SLAM) . Mixed reality calls for the need of advanced image recognition for object recognition to identify the environment of a user so that he/she can interact with. It also needs to function in all known or unknown environments by continuously creating their maps. Thus, a real-time understanding of the real-world environment surrounding the user without any lag is needed to create the perfect co-existence of the needed digital and physical world. Above all this needs to be complemented by the hardware and processing power. Today Microsoft HoloLens and Meta’s Neta Pro have taken some baby steps in realizing the potential of Mixed Reality with its take on virtual overlay, sensors tracking physical world, inertial measurement units and processors.  The world has a long way to go before realizing the complete potential of mixed reality. Mixed reality lets the world have the best of both virtual world and real world and thus helps the world realize its digital 3D potential. For the world to embrace the technology completely more research and development in the above enablers can help in faster commercialization and thus leading to economies of scale. The poet in me says it will be the fulfilment of the dream of having my imagination in actual reality.

As we march ahead in this journey of embracing a vision within the reality, questions arise about the mere meaning of existence. We exist in an environment with its own problems and questions. Not only can we live in a world given to us by the red pill but we can further bring that world into Stark Tower. But let us not need the totem, for reality must be embraced in the journey called life. But if you are the one whose totem never needed to be taken out, you my friend have had your cake and eaten it too!!