AR, VR, MR & XR what are they and how are they used within business?

The recent covid19 pandemic and current energy crisis have intensified the research into and adoption of digitalisation technology in 2022. High up on the new priority list are Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality respectively referred to as AR, VR and MR. The collective term for all three is extended reality or XR.

The frenzied interest in XR technology is being driven by several issues:

- The risk of future pandemics.

- The high cost and hassle of travelling.

- Cost reduction.

- Changing attitude to globalisation.

- Billions being invested into the 'Metaverse'.

- Facilitation of new technology.

How are AR, VR and MR being used in 2022?

1. AR: Augmented Reality

AR is best described using Hostcomm's remote visual assistance service which transforms a live video session by overlaying visual aids for confusion-free communications with a remote party in a technical/mechanical environment. The remote party is able to see these merged visual aids on their screen while pointing their smartphone at the technical or mechanical subject matter. The main benefit is the assistance is provided without either party having to meet up. Remote visual assistance using AR can be extended to inspections and surveys as well as simply providing assistance. Another well-known example of AR is the Pokemon Go craze where overlaid characters would appear to be in situ when a smartphone was pointed in the right place, giving the impression, on the smartphone screen that it was actually there. AR is a cost-effective and accessible option because it is supported on any smartphone, in some cases using only standard browser functionality. Remote visual assistance can be provided through Smart Glasses which enable the remote user to work using both hands. They are however expensive, ranging from £1000-£5000 and they do not suit ad-hoc or domestic usage where webRTC (browser, no app) solutions are more appropriate. AR is widely used in remote visual assistance and inspections, product support, property maintenance, insurance, aerospace and manufacturing.

2. VR: Virtual Reality

VR delivers complete immersion into a virtual world using a headset. There are many well-known business VR applications such as Meta Horizon Workrooms, Spatial and Vive Sync which provide a virtual meeting environment using avatars. There are also well-established training and team-building applications some of which can translate language in real-time. One particular application for VR which is of great interest is live VR streaming (LVS). LVS works using a small 360-degree camera which collects live video from multiple lenses to produce video content that can be viewed using a VR headset. When viewed in a headset the experience is such that the user feels as though they are actually there, in real-time. Recent developments in cloud technology, onboard stitching, 8K video and processors mean we can now attend live events, training sessions and meetings through a VR headset in real-time. There are many factors involved in good quality LVS, such as the camera, a content delivery network and effective image stitching so it is not really plug and play. Some users of LVS employ specialist firms to handle the broadcasting and production tasks, for example at a live music or sporting event. VR is used in engineering and design applications where the objects do not need to be in virtual situ when MR is preferable. VR is mainly used in entertainment, training, education, business collaboration, design and engineering.

3. MR: Mixed Reality

MR solutions such as Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap allow the user to operate in the real world and virtual world simultaneously using a headset which projects digital objects in the user's field of view in real-time. Multiple users can interact with these objects in the same room to resolve design issues, perform training or practice healthcare operations. MR is the best technology to use in conjunction with a digital twin. Digital twins are virtual representations of the movements, forces, and interactions that assets can undergo in the physical world. This lets users engage with dynamic content that is three-dimensional and responsive to their actions in real-time. In this virtual environment, they can effectively simulate real-world conditions, what-if scenarios and any circumstance imaginable, and visualise the outcomes instantly on any platform, including mobile devices, computers, and augmented, mixed and virtual reality (AR/MR/VR) devices (Unity). MR can be adopted in remote visual assistance situations where the remote party has an MR headset or head-up display (HUD) giving them hands-free assistance with a task. MR is increasingly used in design, construction, manufacturing, engineering and remote product support.

Early adopters of this type of technology tend to be global or large corporates because the investment required is substantial and requires scale to justify. However, there are some very cost-effective alternatives for organisations that don't have £4000 for an MR headset. Some innovative options offer MR from as little as £500 when used with a smartphone as the host device.

There is an XR solution available to any organisation whose employees have to travel frequently to do their job. The current costs and hassle associated with travel make it increasingly easy to justify the costs.

If you would like to talk to an expert about your current or future XR requirements please contact us at [email protected].

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