At present, it is quite hard to tell what applications will
ultimately end up using mixed reality – but that should summon up images of the
unfortunate chairman of IBM declaring that there would be ‘a world market for
about five computers’ in 1958. This was because, at the time, the personal
computer was an unfeasible idea: computers occupied entire large rooms, had the
approximate computing power of the calculator on one of today’s smartphones,
and needed its operators to wear specific fabrics (no nylon stockings were
allowed anywhere near them as the static electricity generated by thighs
rubbing together was enough to severely disrupt the machine’s workings!).
Bearing the unfortunate Thomas J Watson’s words in mind, it may currently seem that mixed reality – and indeed, virtual and augmented reality – have limited uses, predominantly as amusements. But we will allow for advances in technology and the needs of people to morph to possibly make mixed reality one of the most important inventions of the age. As indeed, was the computer at its re-invention as the home computer… Let us consider some current uses:
Remote attendance at events is made easier and more comfortable using mixed reality. Previously, attending conferences by long distance, has been an awkwardly distant affair, with participants firmly in their own homes, trying desperately to feel part of things via a telephone connection or small laggy screen. With mixed reality, it is possible for people to feel as those they are actually at the event, with their virtual self projected, hologram-style, into the midst of the action.
Other remote groups or workers can benefit from mixed reality. Working at distant outposts alone, or with a very small enclosed group of people can be very claustrophobic and cause anxiety and stress. Being able to interact with family and friends can help to stave off these issues, making difficult tasks and long deployments easier to cope with.
Heads-up displays may well become an everyday part of life, offering complete connection to all the information one needs. Travelling to a distant city? Imagine having real time updates about traffic accidents and road closures with alternate routes being planned out even before you know there’s a problem on the way? With mixed reality, you can even see alternative scenarios play out in front of you, before being choosing the best, safest option.
Developers spend a lot of time and money planning major construction projects or immense events, trying to account for all the variables without spending a lot of money at the planning stage. Mixed reality will make it possible for planning to take into account the smallest details and iron out heating and ventilation issues, remove bottlenecks, and generally make sure that everything has been considered before a penny is spent unnecessarily. Because mixed reality depends on accurate physics engines, it is possible to play out scenarios and see results that might otherwise have been a complete – and unpleasant – surprise.These are just some of the current uses for mixed reality. Who knows what lies around the corner, just waiting to take advantage of the technology? Only time will tell.