Early this month, Microsoft will host the second part of its Ignite conference aimed at IT professionals and developers. The livestreamed event, which begins on March 2, will feature a number of exciting trends in technology innovation, but the industry has its sights on one element in particular: a presentation on mixed reality.
According to the session list, the first day of the event will feature a keynote entitled “Introducing the future of mixed reality.”
“Mixed reality is transforming the way we work, live, and play,” the keynote description reads. “Companies across industries are leveraging mixed reality to drive transformation and are seeing a strong return on investment.”
In the public conscience, virtual and mixed reality technologies are most often associated with entertainment, specifically gaming. Over the past few years, however, Microsoft has advanced mixed reality for business use, updating its HoloLens mixed reality goggles for regulated industries and developing new mixed reality apps as part of its Dynamic 365 product collection.
The timing of this mixed reality buzz is no coincidence. With digital transformation accelerating and remote and hybrid workplaces on the rise, IT leaders are looking more closely at the business benefits of immersive technology.
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What is mixed reality?
Before we look closer at the benefits of these technologies, let’s first define mixed reality in comparison to other forms of immersive technologies – namely, virtual reality and augmented reality.
Virtuality reality (VR) technology creates an entirely artificial environment. VR software presents users with a multi-dimensional experience in which they feel immersed in a world that does not exist. Conversely, augmented reality (AR) integrates digital overlays with a user’s physical surroundings. Three-dimensional holograms are a popular example, as they are artificial elements that can be presented within the user’s real environment.
Mixed reality (MR) is something of a hybrid, combining the benefits of VR and AR. It creates a layered environment, viewed through a headset, in which virtual objects appear within the real world so as to appear as if they’re really there. While similar to AR, MR technology is more adaptable to the specific layouts of physical environments, providing users with a more immersive and life-like experience.
Virtual and mixed reality are poised to have a major impact on businesses in the hybrid work era.
As companies continue to adapt to remote working, many are taking a closer look at the business benefits of virtual and mixed reality tools.
For example, one problem with distributed workforces is the inability to replicate the human-to-human interaction that happens when employees meet in the office, workshopping ideas around a conference table rather than on a video call. Sure, video conferencing technology enables them to still see each other – but it doesn’t feel like being in the same room with your colleagues.
VR/MR technology adds another layer to these interactions and can better replicate the benefits of in-person interaction. Using MR technology specifically, a team can inhabit a virtual conference room and interact with a virtual whiteboard, planning projects and workshopping ideas in a far more tactical way than traditional video conferencing allows for. These technologies can also enhance training and onboarding to make a new employee’s experience far more immersive, and ultimately rewarding.
Though the majority of VR/MR tools are entertainment-based, there are a rising number of technologies aimed specifically at business audiences. One example is MeetinVr, a virtual reality tool tailored for business meetings and collaboration. Given the recent buzz and discussion around VR and MR technology, there’s no doubt we’ll see more of these business-focused products emerge in the near-future.
As the digital workplace continues to evolve, IT should monitor the development of VR and MR technology.
Immersive technology has always been a divisive topic in the tech industry. Many have written it off as a fad, a technology that redefines the limits of home entertainment but will never gain much traction as a mainstream business tool. It’s an understandable perspective: after all, we’re always hearing about the latest breakthrough in virtual reality, but most people have yet to actually use the technology in their day-to-day lives.
With that being said, the past year has completely changed the way we interact with one another in our professional and personal lives. Businesses are investing in technologies they had never previously considered – and virtual/mixed reality tools are uniquely positioned to fill some of the gaps within remote and hybrid work environments.
The future of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality is still largely unknown. But as IT leaders reconfigure their strategies to support hybrid workforces, these immersive technologies shouldn’t be written off as mere entertainment gimmicks. With tech giants like Microsoft pushing mixed reality into the forefront, there’s no limit to the impact these tools can have on the workplace in the coming years.