XR — Extended Reality is an umbrella term for augmented, mixed or virtual realities, but you already knew that, didn’t you? Excellent. I’m not talking about the first virtual reality device, Sensorama (1962), a visionary gadget that stimulates the visual, auditory, haptic and olfactory senses. I’m NOT even talking about the early augmented reality experiences invented in the early 90s by the US Air Force. In short, we know enough about extended reality technologies and they’ve occupied a significant part of our imagination for more than 50 years. You can find more here and here.
So, let’s start at 2019. Why is humanity in love with XR? (I love this rant)
Humans have been writing for close to 10,000 years and we have written a lot. We have painted on walls, scratched clay tablets, written on paper and typed on computers/smartphones/tablets. These media have been critical for exchanging knowledge and enabled our greatest achievements like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Einstein’s Relativity, frugal interplanetary satellites and CRISPR. With this power, we have been catapulted from a species using stone tools to being on the verge of interplanetary exploration. However, notice this medium has always been a 2-dimensional plane, never anything in 3-dimensions. Why? While we’ve always imagined what extended reality would be like, until now technology was always the limiting factor. Not anymore, we are at the cusp of 3D visualisation and building on this visualisation revolution will make the next 10,000 years will transform Homo sapiens to Homo deus.
Alright, but why now?
Early 21st century (today) is the first time technology (specifically, the abilities to process large amounts of visual information and to transport them over large distances in a matter of seconds) has enabled 3D visualisation through portable head-mounted devices (HMDs). You no longer need to cart around a massive CPU or a heavy-duty laptop to run XR experiences. A smartphone or head-mounted XR device is enough. At the same time, a tiny SIM card gives you access to superfast 3G/4G internet to explore virtual worlds from any corner of the planet in a jiffy. This confluence is fantastic and it will only get better over the next 3–5 years with Moore’s law doubling HMD processing power, and a combination of 5G & Edge Computing providing better infrastructure to deliver superior quality experiences on sleek HMDs.
Granted the time is now, but what do we have today?
We have completed one full generational cycle of standalone , fully-immersive virtual reality headsets (hardware) with some of them doubling up as partial augmented reality headsets as well. And, we have completed a full product lifecycle for rudimentary and rich multimedia augmented reality headsets and many of them are aiming for higher field of view (FOV). Hardware engineers are working from both directions to achieve a single, unifying wearable device that functions as both AR and VR (collectively called XR) device.