Mixed Reality (MR) has been the holy grail of virtual experiences for years, but only recently emerged as a fully functional and applicable technology. Two months ago, NewtonX assembled a panel of 15 senior Mixed Reality experts, including a member of the Magic Leap founding team, the inventor of one of the first Virtual Reality pieces of equipment, and 10 business executives already integrating MR in their business processes and workflows. The tech experts from our panel pointed to two concurring technological advances for why MR is at a turning point: advanced image recognition and Simultaneous Location and Mapping (technology that can locate and situate a person while simultaneously mapping the environment in new and changing environments). Having established that MR can now contribute to high-performance businesses from a technological standpoint, NewtonX turned to the business executives using MR in their internal business functions in order to identify the technology’s enterprise applications.
The Difference between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality
Augmented reality (AR), which has existed for almost a decade, provides information about a task overlaid on the real world. For instance, Google Glass uses AR to overlay text on reality based on alerts and location-specific data. Mixed Reality takes AR one step further, allowing users to see the real world, while also seeing and interacting with virtual objects. These virtual objects can be anchored to places in real space, allowing the MR user to test visual configurations as they would actually appear in real life.
Mixed reality uses image recognition and sensor data to calculate the user’s place in the physical world, as well as virtual objects’ place in the real world. For instance, if an architect or contractor were considering placing a water heater in a certain spot, they could place a virtual water heater (with the exact shape and dimensions as the real water heater) and see how the configuration would work, without the strenuous and time-consuming activity of actually testing it in different locations.
This is just one of many applications of MR. There are numerous tangible use cases for the technology that enterprises could benefit from.
The Top Three Enterprise Applications of Mixed Reality
Using the quantitative and qualitative insights gained through the panel of 15 MR experts, NewtonX identified three key areas in which mixed reality can provide tangible business benefits to enterprises.
1. Remote Collaboration in Real-Time
MR has far-reaching applications for team collaboration. Thus far, this has mostly been applied to the construction industry (through integrations with BIM technology), but it could also be beneficial to warehousing design, real estate ventures ( or questions such as, “Can a team of 24 really fit this space?”), and product design. Most collaboration is currently done through cloud-based software, but MR opens up the possibility of combining the various collaboration tools we currently have, allowing, for instance, remote teams to brainstorm on the same virtual whiteboard.
Because changes in the virtual environment happen in real-time, all stakeholders can see the most up-to-date versions of the environment at all times. This level of visibility keeps everyone on the same page and minimizes time spent bringing new members up to date.
2. Sales Demos
Sales representatives will likely adopt MR rapidly. The technology enables the customer to visualize the reps’ product — not just through a demo, but by seeing it fully integrated into their lives. As early as 2014, Fiat began experimenting with VR for marketing material, and in 2016 released an AR showroom in conjunction with Google, allowing customers to virtually explore the inside and outside of the car superimposed on their surroundings.
The virtual showroom idea is particularly appealing for big purchases that are difficult to return or view in person. Museum curators and interior decorators could similarly benefit from the demo nature of MR.
3. Remote Training and Instruction
This will likely be one of the most lucrative and widely used application of MR. The technology offers a quick and inexpensive avenue to accessing trainers, experts, managers, or coaches for hands-on training. For instance, a technician installing an offshore wind farm (a series of wind turbines located in a body of water), could have an expert quickly and seamlessly annotate and point to the areas that the technician needs to work on. Similarly, some healthcare providers are experimenting with MR to connect specialized doctors with ER doctors and nurses to give hands-on guidance during difficult or unfamiliar procedures.
In fields where hands-on training is necessary, MR could decrease the need for on-site trainers, and instead centralize training to a few people in the flagship office using MR to work with other teams. In complex manufacturing, enough resources are focused on training new workers that this could provide significant cost savings. A comprehensive study on using MR for implementing a manufacturing procedure of an aircraft maintenance door, allowing for real-time collaborative interactions, found that there was no statistically significant difference in performance between on-site live training and MR live training.
Why it will pay to adopt MR early
While MR is still in its nascent stages, it will offer cost-savings to enterprises through increased collaboration, more effective sales, and decreased cost for training and expertise. Importantly, it helps stakeholders make fewer mistakes through miscommunication or miscalculation. It’s no wonder that the construction industry (which has a rich history of miscommunication and mistakes) has adopted MR readily. The next few years will bring more enterprise-focused MR tools, and those companies that adopt early will reap the benefits fastest.