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Mixed reality using a virtual reality headset. (Image credit: Pierre-faure via Wikipedia)


Time to invest!


Mixed reality is on the fast track to rival AR and VR but still lags behind regarding development. There are far more applications for the latter even though the first mixed reality system came out in the early 1990’s with the US Air Force’s Virtual Fixtures platform. A novel system that featured a pair of robotic arms controlled by the user wearing an exoskeleton along with a couple of binocular magnifiers aligned in such a way that they would appear in the same location as the user’s real arms. A computer would generate virtual overlays- such as physical barriers, fields, and guides users could interact with while performing physical tasks.


Today we just use headsets to do the same thing, albeit with more advanced graphics and overlays than what could be had back then but the premise remains the same- the combination of augmented and virtual reality for a different level of immersive interaction. Two primary companies are spearheading R&D in the world of mixed reality- Microsoft and Magic Leap but only one have brought their technology to fruition and the other, perhaps not so much.



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(Image credit: Microsoft)


On the Microsoft side, the company released their HoloLens mixed reality smart glasses back in 2016 (developer edition only), which features sensors (IMU), cameras (depth/2.4 megapixel), an onboard processor (Intel Cherry Trail SoC), microphone array and Holographic Processing Unit (HPU). Unsurprisingly, the glasses use Windows 10 to process applications, which are then displayed on the combiner lenses as 3D objects interlaced in a real-world setting.


Microsoft currently has nine applications for the HoloLens that range from simple hologram interaction to 3D modeling applications that are available now and several more slated for release sometime in the near future. The headset itself can be had for either $3,000 for the Developer Edition and $5,000 for the Commercial Suite (enterprise features for security and device management).


As a bonus, other tech companies have designed their own Windows-based headsets that can take advantage of the HoloLens applications but cost much cheaper (around $300 to $500) than Microsoft’s offering- including Acer’s Windows Mixed Reality, Dell’s Visor, Asus’ HC102 and Samsung’s HMD Odyssey among a host of others.



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(Image credit: Magic Leap)


Majic Leap, on the other hand, has accrued $1.9-billion in funding from companies such as Google, Alibaba, and Temasek Holdings to bring their One mixed reality platform to the market but after three years since its announcement there have only been vague hardware specs, prototype pics (not sure if they’re real?) and a hands-on review from Rolling Stone.


That being said, the One system is speculated to have some powerful hardware to push mixed reality applications and features three pieces of equipment- Lightwear headset, Lightpack wearable PC, and a handheld controller. The headset itself is similar to the HoloLens with onboard sensors, microphones, cameras and clear lenses of application projection, although it looks much sleeker than Microsoft’s offering.


Now here’s the exciting part- the headset is tethered to Magic’s Lightpack portable CD player-sized PC, which is worn on your belt or pants and is speculated to house top of the line hardware that rivals an Alienware PC or MacBook Pro, according to Rolling Stone article. With that being said, we will only find out when the One is released (Magic Leap hinted at some time this year).


As far as applications are concerned, mixed reality is capable of progressing further than just military, entertainment, and media- including business, education and manufacturing industries. Imagine instead of searching through static product catalogs you could sift through 3D smart replicas to find product listings and inventory. Remote working would take on a different meaning over video conferencing and simulation training/instruction would be second to none over performing it in the real world. These are just a few examples of what could be done using mixed reality and the best part- the technology exists today.  


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