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How can we communicate most effectively? Electronic devices offer efficiency and range, but distance us somewhat from direct experience. In-person contact is more complete, but not always practical. With mixed reality, we can combine the advantages of both.

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Alexander Graham Bell’s first message through the telephone he had just invented was to his assistant, Thomas Watson. Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” As important as his new invention was, Bell still valued face-to-face contact.

The telephone, of course, enabled communication over long distance. But with it, we hear only disembodied voices. We can’t see facial expressions, gestures, or backgrounds, and without this information, we often have to guess at meanings of words.

To this day, we often use our phones to schedule face-to-face meetings.

Through personal computers, we’ve increased efficiency in communication. But our efforts are still highly abstract. We started with keyboards and lines of text. We’ve moved on to touch pads and gestural mice. From these foundations, some of us have moved onto voice commands.

At every step, though, we’re still very much aware of our devices. We stare into rectangular screens. ‘Reality’ is still highly abstract.

What difference does mixed reality make?

Mixed reality (MR), also called merged reality, promises to make computing less abstract and more ‘real’.

Mixed reality is related to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). MR combines properties of both. AR is display of digital images over a real environment. The heads-up display on an auto windshield is one example.

MR takes the AR concept further by scanning the user’s physical environment. With this scanned data, it creates a digital map of his surroundings. The MR software knows, then, where to place digital objects so they seem real. While AR images appear to be a on a flat plane before the viewer, MR images appear three-dimensional. When a real object is between the viewer and a digital object’s apparent position, the real object obscures the user’s view of the digital object. If the digital object’s apparent position is in ‘front’ of the  real object, it will obscure the real object. MR images, then, interact in real time with the user’s physical surroundings. The viewer can walk around the images, zoom in on them, or manipulate them.

Mixed reality, then, promises to be nearly as direct and immediate as face to face conversation. Jeorg Mewes, the CEO of Avegant, said: “Mixed reality enables people to interact directly with their ideas rather than on screens or keyboards.” We are less conscious of our devices then; immersed more deeply in real and virtual worlds.

In a future post, we will outline some of the most important uses for mixed reality. Watch for it.


(To get the most from your computer, you need a strong internet connection. Talk to us. We can help.)