Mixed Reality May Be Your Key to VR

Combining the virtual and real worlds

Key Takeaways

  • New software lets users bring the real world into virtual reality. 
  • Users will soon have many choices to experiment with in mixed reality as more headsets are hitting stores. 
  • Bloomberg reports that Apple’s mixed-reality device could launch as early as next year.
Someone using mixed reality to interact with an automobile in a showroom.

XR Expo / Unsplash.com

Mixing the virtual and real worlds is one of tech's hottest new trends. 

Varo Lab's XR-3 mixed reality headset is getting new software that will allow users to trace shapes. The shapes can then be used as windows into reality for users wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets. Apple is reportedly planning to release a mixed reality headset next year. 

"By blending digital and physical elements, MR [mixed reality] creates a much more realistic experience when compared to VR," David King Lassman, the CEO of mixed reality developer GigXR told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Mixing It Up

Varjo Lab Tools is a soon-to-be-released software suite that will work with the Varjo XR-3 mixed reality headset. The headset offers a way to see into the real world using color cameras. 

Many VR headsets offer ways to view augmented reality (AR) by bringing virtual objects into the real world. But Varjo's new software is designed to bring real things into the virtual world. 

The software is part of a new platform Varjo calls Reality Cloud for virtual teleportation. Users can capture a real space in a particular location and share that reality in extreme detail for a remote person to experience in the virtual world. 

Someone using a virtual reality tablet in a crop field to manage the crop.

KDP / Getty Images

The software works by scanning the details of a room in detail and then letting the user show someone remotely located a view of the room in real-time.

For users, mixed reality could offer increased safety when wearing VR goggles. 

"People are less likely to trip over furniture or, in the extreme, walk into traffic if the furniture and traffic are part of the reality they are seeing," tech expert Jeff Miller told Lifewire in an email interview. "This isn't assured as we have seen with Pokemon Go where a few people walked into traffic or took other dangerous actions while being completely absorbed by their phone's screen."

Users will soon have a lot of choices to experiment with in mixed reality. Nreal recently announced that its $599 augmented reality glasses would be available next month through Verizon

Bloomberg reports that Apple's mixed-reality device could launch as early as next year. This is not the first time Gurman has reported on this mixed reality device. The report says that it will have advanced chips, displays, sensors, and avatar-based features.

By blending digital and physical elements, MR [mixed reality] creates a much more realistic experience when compared to VR.

The Future Is Mixed

The possibilities for future uses for mixed reality range from medicine to everyday communications, observers say. 

The aviation and defense industries are using mixed reality headsets to keep costs down. Medical manikins for students to practice on can cost up to $70,000 each, and aerospace simulators for commercial aircraft run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, Lassman pointed out. 

One potential user for mixed reality is in medicine. For example, in GigXR's HoloPatient—a hologram patient—is superimposed onto the actual physical surroundings of the user. 

"Think about a virtual patient sitting in a real chair in the front of your classroom or even in your living room where you can safely observe, assess and diagnose a patient's condition," Lassman said. 

Education is another area where mixed reality could beat the real world. 

"'Holographic' mixed reality experiences can enable sales teams to show customers how products will look and operate in their space," Alex Young, the CEO of immersive learning firm Virti, told Lifewire in an email interview.

NASA astronauts are also using mixed reality in orbit. The agency recently tested a Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset to monitor experiments onboard the space station. 

Last summer, astronaut Megan McArthur used the AR headset to replace a piece of hardware inside Cold Atom Lab, enabling the facility to produce ultracold potassium atoms. 

"Cold Atom Lab is investing in the use of this technology on the space station not just because it's intriguing, but because it could provide additional capabilities for these complex tasks that we rely on astronauts to perform," said Kamal Oudrhiri, Cold Atom Lab's project manager at JPL in a news release. "This activity was a perfect demonstration of how Cold Atom Lab and quantum science can take advantage of mixed reality technology."

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