This spring, Apple released its new iPad Pro with a LIDAR scanner, showing its interest in the XR industry. There is no doubt that many have heard about extended reality (XR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and augmented reality (AR), but there are not yet many opportunities for people to actually experience them. However, by the looks of how the number of VR cafés have increased dramatically recently, it seems very likely that the technology will soon be a very important part of our lives. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) will be looking into XR, a technology that will soon substantially influence our lives.
So What Is XR?
XR: A Brief Introduction
XR is a terminology that stands for Extended Reality. It is an umbrella term that encompasses VR, AR, and MR. Thus, to understand what XR is, it is necessary to understand what VR, AR, and MR are.
1. Virtual Reality (VR)
VR is a technology that offers a computer-simulated experience that can be either similar or completely different from the real world. It offers an artificial situation or environment and uses external interfaces such as people’s five senses and provides a realistic experience in a computer-generated world. Almost all VR makes use of VR goggles, and the wearer of these goggles experiences a virtually made reality through them. These goggles are what many typical VR game cafés use today.
2. Augmented Reality (AR)
AR is a technology that uses computer-generated perceptual information to enhance the real world. Unlike VR, AR does not wholly generate a completely different reality from the real world. It rather provides aids that enhance the real world as the term augmented reality suggests. For example, using a smartphone to try out new furniture is an example of where AR is used in the real world.
|IKEA's Mobile Application That Makes Use of Augmented Reality (medium.com)3. Mixed Reality (MR)|
MR is a technology that merges the real world and the virtual world. It is somewhat confusing since AR seems to be doing the same job. The key difference is that MR does not only “augment” the real world; MR allows the reality and the computer-generated reality to interact in a much more immersive way. Microsoft HoloLens would be a good example. In one of the games that can be played using the Microsoft HoloLens, if one makes the action of shooting a gun at a wall, the HoloLens shows the user that there is a hole on the real wall in front of him or her.
XR And Its Path
Although it seems like cutting-edge technology, XR has a relatively long history. In 1960, Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist, invented the world’s first head-mounted display, which is today’s equivalent to VR goggles. In 1975, Myron Krueger used a projector and a video camera and made Videoplace, a Virtual Reality that does not require VR goggles or gloves. However, what made the public aware of VR was VPL Research’s DataGlove, EyePhone, and Datasuit, which were released in 1989. After 1989, VR contents were developed by game companies such as Nintendo and Sega. After this, Tom Caudell, a researcher who worked for Boeing, coined the term AR in 1990, and AR contents have shown rapid development in terms of quality and quantity since then. Later, Google Glass and Pokémon Go made AR come into many people’s everyday lives. In 2015, Microsoft unveiled its HoloLens product, which signaled the start of MR products for ordinary consumers.
|Evan Sutherland's Head-mounted Display (roadtovr.com)|
XR: Its Present Utilization
Ever since its advent, the XR industry has had to face a huge obstacle; it needed to process lots of data, and this huge amount of data made it much more difficult for the public to use. Maintaining an XR service online is much more burdensome than maintaining video streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix (the two services which presently take up a huge amount of traffic and seem to be causing a problem already). There is also an entry barrier pricewise in that the consumers have to buy their own XR devices to make use of the services. Nevertheless, the XR industry has been thriving for a few years now. According to Super Data, a data research firm, it is estimated that the overall market size of the XR industry is around 6 billion US dollars.
How XR is Used
AR is the most frequently and practically used technology among the three XR techs. AR does not require the developer to make a whole new reality like VR and also does not need to make its content interact with reality as much as AR. Such aspects of AR made it mature more quickly than MR and VR. Pokémon Go made full use of the technology. The basic outline of the original Pokémon games that people used to play on Nintendo was maintained, but the game made the Pokémon characters seem like they appeared in real life. The players have to go around and catch the Pokémon they want from the screens of their mobile devices. Furthermore, AR is also used to train soldiers. The US Army uses AR to develop its soldiers’ situational awareness. For example, the US Army adopted what is called Tactical Augmented Reality. By simply wearing an eyepiece, soldiers are presented with the location and friend or foe identification. When a person points at a target with a gun while wearing the eyepiece, the eyepiece also presents the target’s distance.
|US Army’s Tactical Augmented Reality (uploadvr.com)|
Unlike AR, VR presents a reality completely distant from the real world. The reality, as mentioned above, can be completely different or similar to the world we live in. The entertainment industry is where VR is mainly used. Specifically, the fact that it needs to make a whole new reality is common with the gaming industry in which a new reality is born every single day. VR also made it possible for gamers to be more immersed in first-person perspective games. SEGA and Nintendo, which were among the first players in the market to make use of the technology, and products such as PlayStation VR show how the gaming industry is interested in the technology. Also, the movie industry seems to be interested in the technology as well. Until now, movies were usually delivered through flat screens. The use of VR, however, will make it possible for the audience to feel as if they are part of the film. Movies like Ashes to Ashes, for instance, allow the audience to watch the movie in 360 degrees from the perspective of an object in the movie.
|Part of the Movie Ashes to Ashes (jamille.nl)|
MR is a relatively recent technology compared to AR and VR, but it is also an industry with huge potential. It is said to be the technology that brought the best sides out of AR and VR. The technology seems to have lots of potential in the education sector. Allowing learners to interact with what they are learning about directly is surely the best way to educate anyone. At Case Western Reserve University, which offers the best medical school in Ohio, an anatomy class has already made use of the Microsoft HoloLens, instead of donated carcasses. MR will not only be used effectively in the education field in the near future, but also in any field in which direct experience is important.
How Will XR Change Our Lives?
XR is already widely used. According to International Data Corporation (IDC)’s estimates, the industry can even grow into a 200-billion-dollar business. This means that XR will be part of our everyday lives soon. In that case, what can we expect from XR coming into our daily lives?
|Medical Use of Microsoft HoloLens (microsoft.com)|
Cheaper Experience, Leading to Efficiency
Currently, most information that we take in is delivered two-dimensionally (2D) through paper or a screen. XR will enable people to acquire information three-dimensionally (3D), which is expected to increase the efficiency of information acquisition. Fields such as education and job training can be greatly advanced using XR. Job training can be done through artificially made real-world scenarios without the risk of making dangerous mistakes in the actual job that new employees are more likely to make. Moreover, tours to foreign locations using XR technology might now perfectly replace real-world tours and help people learn more about distant places far from where they live. For example, visiting the Eiffel Tower by just wearing goggles is possible through XR. The entertainment contents that people watch will also be adding another axis to it. Just imagine what it would be like if YouTube videos played as if they were happening right next to the person watching the particular content. XR contents, consequently, will allow for a much more immersive experience for the users without a huge price tag.
Artificial Intelligence And XR: To a More Real Extended Reality
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will definitely help XR content to be more realistic. AI will allow the XR contents to go beyond the boundaries of the scenarios that developers made. Using AI, the characters in the extended reality will be able to show various responses and outputs to a particular input. In gaming, for instance, this means that all game characters, other than what the users actually play, will one day act as if they have their own personalities and form new personalities as the games go on. The merger between XR and AI, as a result, will make extended reality more realistic but it will be an alternate reality. Eventually, the development and the merger of the two technologies can even make the boundaries between what’s real and what is not less obvious. Although there are dangers associated with such development, with careful implementation, technology can make our lives richer and more colorful.
XR is a technology that we expect a lot from. The experiences that were once difficult or seemingly impossible to have will be possible through the implementation and the development of the technology. However, like any other new technology, it does have its own downsides in terms of ethics and health. Although XR seems to be out of reach just now, the SKT hopes that society will bring in XR wisely to enhance our everyday lives.
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