Virtual reality is already on its way to be the hottest technology trend this year. At the same time, a new type of reality is also brewing and don’t you call it simply “augmented reality”. The new hip term if “mixed reality”, or MR if you will, and it is striving to distance itself from VR and AR. One of the first companies to lay claim to this new land, Magic Leap is giving the public a teaser of how mixed its reality really is. And it’s a reality that might be a dream come true.
Virtual reality is easy enough to distinguish. You wear these boxes on your head that practically put a screen in front of your eyes. Everything you see there is “synthetic”, either computer generated or, at the very least, a video of reality “projected” on a screen. Augmented reality is a bit harder to pin down. Traditionally, it has involved overlaying computer generated images or video on top of real objects seen through a camera lens, usually that of a smartphone or tablet camera. It’s basically like projecting a video on top of a real world object, but you can only see it through your mobile device.
Mixed Reality, on the other hand, changes the formula a bit. Depending on who made the device, you are saying goodbye to headsets that block your view of the real world. The glasses or lenses still let you see real world objects while still overlaying virtual objects in your view, much like AR but without artificial screens. But, more importantly, it also allows users to interact with those virtual objects directly. That is a key factor that MR proponents like Microsoft with its HoloLens and Magic Leap are trying to make.
For those who haven’t yet seen Microsoft’s HoloLens videos, Magic Leap is showing off a demo of its own. One important difference, however, is that, at least according to Magic Leap, the entire video is captured from the point of view of the wearer. There is totally no special effects or compositing except to add the disclaimer text. Virtual objects are overlaid on the real world, but they also respect the dimensions of real world objects, something you can’t do with AR without using special markers.
Magic Leap has been pretty secretive about its hardware, but it has also been teasing a special lens that projects images onto a user’s eyes. To that extent, it is expected to be more like Google Glass than HoloLens in its final incarnation.