What Is XR?

XR /eks-ar/ noun – XR is an umbrella term encompassing virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies, as well as other forms of alternate, expanded, or immersive reality applications, including those not yet invented.

Types of XR Technology

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive medium that replaces a user’s real surroundings with a simulated environment, such as a foreign destination, a virtual lecture hall, or a video game. Rather than viewing two-dimensional content on a screen, VR users are immersed in and able to interact with 3D worlds. By incorporating multiple senses, such as 360-degree vision, hearing, and touch, VR headsets function as gatekeepers to artificial worlds.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality (AR) layers computer-generated imagery onto a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. For example, an AR-enabled windshield might display information about a driver’s speed or nearby traffic conditions without obscuring the road. Alternatively, in smartphone-enabled AR, a shopper might use a mobile camera to virtually test out living room furniture before making a purchase.

Mixed Reality (MR)

Mixed reality (MR) blends augmented and virtual reality, allowing users to experience simulated content within their physical worlds and to manipulate and interact with virtual elements in real time. In mixed reality, a user might place a 3D image of a sofa in their living room, as they could in AR, but also turn, reposition, resize, or otherwise adjust the image to explore different views and angles.

XR Timeline

While XR can be traced in principle to 1920s-era flight simulators, its more modern forms date to 1962, when cinematographer Morton Heilig patented the Telesphere Mask, giving rise to head-mounted displays (HMDs). In 1977, George Lucas gave viewers a first look at holographic imagery when Princess Lea called out for Obi Wan Kenobi. More than a decade later, in one of the first commercial applications of AR technology, General Motors created a heads-up display for the Oldsmobile Cutlass in 1988. These early incarnations of XR technology have given way to sleeker form factors and an array of compelling content. With powerful, life-saving applications to healthcare, workforce development, education, manufacturing, and more, XR is poised to become a bigger part of day-to-day life for users across the globe.

Applications of Virtual Reality

Healthcare

Samsung partnered with appliedVR, Travelers, Cedars-Sinai, and Bayer to explore the efficacy of a digital pain-reduction kit that uses therapeutic VR and wearable technology as non-pharmacological supplements to pain management.

Education

Google Expeditions uses virtual reality to give students opportunities to explore the world and bring abstract concepts to life without ever leaving the classroom.

Workforce Development

The Pasco County Fire Rescue uses virtual reality to simulate real-life hazard scenarios, allowing firefighters to train without having to enter smoke-filled buildings or expose themselves to harsh elements.

Applications of Augmented Reality

Healthcare

AccuVein developed an AR imaging device that allows health care professionals to see a map of peripheral veins on the skin’s surface, resulting in an increase in successful IV insertions on the first try.

Education

QuiverVision’s Quiver Education app allows teachers to bring concepts to life with AR experiences that work in tandem with real-world coloring book experiences, helping students better understand concepts in fields such as biology and geometry.

Workforce Development

Using AR, trainees at Japan Airlines (JAL) operate detailed holograms displaying cockpit devices and switches, helping them convert intellectual memory to muscle memory and enhancing flight safety and crew efficiency.

Gaming & Entertainment

In 2016, Niantic’s viral Pokémon Go app demonstrated the power of AR to make players’ own surroundings part of their gaming experiences. The app allowed users to explore their communities with their smartphones in search of more than 500 Pokémon projected into their real-life surroundings.

Applications of Mixed Reality

Healthcare

At Imperial College London/St. Mary’s Hospital, surgeons are using Microsoft HoloLens headsets to overlay 3D digital models of blood vessels, bones, and muscles over patients’ limbs during reconstructive surgery, making procedures quicker and safer.

Education

Microsoft and Pearson partnered to create a mixed-reality curriculum using HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality headsets to immerse students in subject areas such as health, history, chemistry, and math.

Workforce Development

PACCAR, a global leader in the design and manufacturing of commercial trucks, is using Dynamics 365 Guides and HoloLens to easily create heads-up, hands-free holographic employee training materials.

Gaming & Entertainment

In 2019, Live Nation Entertainment launched a suite of mixed reality experiences, including a livestream in which users can see three-dimensional views of their selected performances by merely pointing the app toward a flat surface.