Tech Terms: AR, VR, MR, XR

These tech terms all refer to technologies which provide immersion into a combined real and virtual environment, but what does each specific term actually mean? And are these technologies just for gaming and entertainment or will they be part of our work toolkit in the future?

XR – Extended/Cross Realities

XR is the umbrella term for these types of ‘something’-reality technologies. No one quite agrees what the X stands for but it is understood to mean either Extended Realities or Cross (x) Realities.

XR is not a particular technology, but refers to anything on the continuum of immersive technologies up to the completely virtual.

VR – Virtual Reality

VR involves being fully immersed in a virtual reality. You don a Head-Mounted Device which blocks out your vision of your current location. Instead you see a virtual environment which responds as you move your head around.

What you are immersed in can be an imaginary place like a game, but it can be an alternative real world place. For example you could tour a real holiday destination from your living room with VR. VR can also be used to explore modelled computer generated worlds such as building projects in a 3D model such as BIM or in a digital twin.

AR – Augmented Reality

AR involves overlaying computer generated content on the real world. You typically view it through your phone, so are viewing a live view of the real world and the digital elements are added to this view. The popular game Pokemon Go is AR.

AR does not provide any interaction between objects in the real world and those overlaid digitally.

MR – Mixed Reality

MR is AR but with interaction between the real and virtual objects. For example, when a digitally created creature moves amongst objects in the real world these obstruct your view of the creature. So the virtual content is responding to the real environment so it looks more realistic to you. This can also be used to display further information – when you click on a real world object, you can obtain data and background information. This is an emerging way to interact with data rather than static reports.

Benefits for RMA Work

These new technologies are already at work in related fields such as architecture and engineering. Those working with BIM or GIS platforms are seeing the influence of XR technologies to their work. These technologies enable new levels of insight, visualisation, collaboration and data interaction. As more places are simulated in the virtual world, it will be easier to interact with these places via XR technologies. If a city has a digital twin, it is easy for the planner to don a wearable and visit locations around the city. without leaving the office.

So what are the benefits?

Better visualisation – These tools show accurate models of proposals merged into the existing environment – so are helpful in better understanding the proposal. Whereas in the past, visual simulations had to be generated from a specific viewpoint, now multiple viewpoints could be easily explored.

Hidden elements of the city can also be visualised, such as the underground infrastructure network – see vGIS LinkedIn post ‘see what others can’t”

Better collaboration – Often experts can visualise the proposal in the existing environment, but this information is not available to other professionals or members of the public. XR enables better collaboration by enabling everyone to see the same thing together.

Ease of access to site – Visiting the site involves time and travel costs, however it brings important understanding about the project. These technologies enable sites to be visited and revisited without the need to travel. And staff can share exactly what they saw on site with managers or project stakeholders at a later date which was never practical before. As technologies improve around building and construction, engineers and architects can now supervise a construction project in real time without leaving their office, as they can be fully immersed in an XR version of their project.

Safety – These technologies offer the ability to virtually visit sites with no safety risk. This is a big benefit when dealing with safety risks around construction sites and/or inaccessible locations.

To inspire you further about how different the future may be with these technologies, check out this video of a  virtual reality artist at work.   

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