When it comes to XR Technology, the main system that comes to mind is VR headsets used for gaming and virtually streaming different images and locations to be immersed in a world that is not quite your own. VR gives us an opportunity to experience things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. But gaming isn’t the only thing that Extended Reality can apply to. In fact, it encompasses an entire spectrum of immersible graphics that can be used in a variety of ways.
From Snapchat and Instagram filters to virtual reality games and the ability to customize your living room without leaving the house, Extended Reality has swiftly become a major part of living in today’s world. It has become such a large part of life that we don’t even think about the advancements that have been made, or where it all even started. It wasn’t always this way, and it feels like a relatively new technology, but that’s not the case at all. The ideas behind immersive technology have been around far longer than the first headsets built.
1. A brief history of XR Technologies
A common misconception is that Extended Reality is a relatively new technology, but news channels have been using augmented reality to overlay images onto a green screen for weather and news reports for decades already. So, how far back does it actually go?
In 1838, Sir Charles Wheatstone created the first stereoscope when he realized how the human eyes work together by combining one image from one eye with another image from the other eye to create a three-dimensional image, allowing for the perception of depth. Of his discovery, he states, “When an object is viewed at so great a distance that the optic axes of both eyes are sensibly parallel when directed towards it, the perspective projections of it, seen by each eye separately, are similar, and the appearance to the two eyes is precisely the same as when the object is seen by one eye only.” (Wheatstone, 1838)
With this knowledge, he created a device that gave the illusion of depth instead when looking at a two-dimensional image. But even he didn’t come to this conclusion on his own. In this same article to the Royal Society of London on his findings, he references Leonardo da Vinci, who lived three to four hundred years before, as a source that legitimized his deduction. (Wheatstone)
Fast forward to when the first 3D headset was created in the 1950s and patented by Morton Heilig in 1962. It wasn’t just a simple headset. It was a full sensory console called the Sensorama Simulator. (Lowood) This simulator used a variety of input to play on all the senses, not only sights and sounds. It included changing temperature, smells, and air blown on the user to give them the illusion of a full telepresence. Though rudimentary, this new tech paved the way for inventors today to create the immersive worlds we have now.
In 1987, 150 years after Wheatstone’s stereoscope, Jaron Lanier coined the term Virtual Reality. (Lowood) It was a simple, but definitive way to connect all the rapidly emerging technological concepts. From Heilig’s invention came a rapid expansion of similar concepts, which had a snowball effect on today’s inventions, gaining momentum that rolled into now.
Today, there are products like Virtual Reality goggles for gaming, filters on our phones, and technology that allows us to both see and hear those with whom we are speaking. With how rapidly advancements in virtual technology are growing, it will not be long before XR enables us to touch, taste, and smell things as well.
2. But what is XR Technology, and what’s the difference between AR, VR, and MR?
Simply put, Extended Reality (XR) is any technology that allows the user to overlay physical space with visuals and sounds using computer generated images, thus extending the reality in which they live. This blend of reality and graphics creates a new dimension to the physicality of life and what could be there and allows the user to experience things in a new way.
XR Technology is an umbrella term used to connect Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality into one category. To really understand Extended Reality, having a firm understanding of these subsets is vitally important.
2.1 Virtual Reality or VR
Virtual Reality uses totally immersive technology to allow the user to experience a new world with their senses, including - but not limited to - sight, sound, and touch, giving a near complete world from which to live. It cuts them off from their real-world environment and sets them in an entirely new place. Nowhere is off limits. From the Great Pyramid of Giza to the farthest reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, to the continent of Tamriel, users can utilize virtual reality to expand upon what they know and can be used in school settings and workplaces alike.
2.2 Augmented Reality or AR
Augmented Reality is possibly the most accessible of the three with millions of people using it every day to make life easier. Google Maps, Snapchat, and many other applications already use this technology to overlay an image onto a physical space. Measuring a room with a picture, the green screens used for newsrooms and CGI in movies and television all fall under this category.
2.3 Mixed Reality or MR
Mixed Reality is just like it sounds, a mix of AR and VR where items, objects, and people are sent digitally to another space, and the users there can interact with it. This technology blends real world and digital images to create a more physically immersive environment. Where VR is digitally immersive, and AR is entirely in the physical world, MR combines the two to create something of a mash up of the two.
In short, these are the components that make up each of the subsets of XR Technology.
- Entirely visually immersive in a virtual space
- Uses sensory processors to place real objects into a virtual world for real-time interaction.
- Places virtual items over a physical setting
- Cannot physically interact with objects
- A blend of the physical and digital world that allows both elements to interact and create a richer experience
- Can physically interact with digital objects in real time
All these technologies combined make up what we call Extended Reality.
From the ideas first had by Sir Charles Wheatstone almost two hundred years ago, to the interactive visual displays of VR headsets and social media filters, this world has come a long way regarding technological advancement.
There are many ways that the development of XR Technology is already helping the world we live in grow and society thrive. Modern technology will continue to develop more rapidly than it has before. To learn more of the future of Extended Reality in an educational setting and other practical applications of Extended Reality, from the classroom to the workplace, HoloPundits can help. With a team of experts in immersive technology solutions, we’re here to answer your questions and help you achieve your goals.
1 Wheatstone, Charles. “Contributions to the Physiology of Vision.” Stereoscopy, 19 Jan. 2004, https://www.stereoscopy.com/library/wheatstone-paper1838.html.
2 Lowood, Henry E.. "virtual reality". Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 May. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/technology/virtual-reality. Accessed 9 May 2022.
3 Lowood, Henry E.. "virtual reality". Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 May. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/technology/virtual-reality. Accessed 9 May 2022.
About the Author: Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor is a freelance writer and avid researcher- a jack of all trades, but a master of none. She graduated from the University of Hawai'i with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts because she had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up. She has since found her love of Extended Reality and the possibilities it brings to the world, as well as gardening, cooking, and writing. Anna lives in Interior Alaska with her family.