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Get ready for a mixed-reality world

The physical world will soon be filled with interactive digital content — and it could change everything.

Mixed-reality coming soon

‘Reality’ is becoming a whole lot more complicated (and interesting), thanks to the merging of real and virtual worlds. We’re already seeing the emergence of mixed reality (MR), where our physical world will co-exist with interactive digital content. And that could profoundly change industries from healthcare to retail and manufacturing.

So how is MR different from virtual reality and augmented reality?

MR is a combination of the two, where you overlay digital content onto the real world. But MR takes this a step further by allowing that digital content to interact with the real world, in real time.

How exactly does MR work?

MR uses virtual reality, as well as other technologies such as sensors and advanced optics, to allow you to interact with this environment (unlike VR, in which you’re completely immersed in a virtual world). Essentially, you're able to interact with holograms that look and behave like the real deal, whether that’s a new couch for your living room or an ultrasound being used during a surgical procedure.

Although VR and AR are currently the main technology in the spotlight, mixed reality technology is now beginning to make its way into the market. That includes high-profile platforms such as Windows Mixed Reality.

While there are exciting applications for the gaming and entertainment industries, MR isn’t just about creating an amped-up version of Pokémon Go. It also holds huge potential for multiple industries and businesses in the not-so-distant future.


MR could change the face of healthcare, from clinical training to surgical procedures. Medical practitioners will not only be able to view, but also interact with holographic replicas of a patient’s organs and bones, or overlay ultrasound images during an operation. (MR innovations are already in the works). MR could also be used for remote consultation and collaboration, as well as clinical training where learners practice medical procedures on holographic replicas of human anatomy.


While online shopping is popular, it has its limitations — despite your best efforts, that new couch doesn’t look quite right in your living room or that hotel room you booked doesn’t live up to the photos. Virtual reality is already changing this. For example, VR headsets allow you to check out a hotel room or destination before booking it, and MR takes this a step further. Instead of guessing if that new couch will match your décor, you could view a 3D holographic version of the couch in your living room before you buy it.


When designing infrastructure — from skyscrapers to bridges — engineers could overlay virtual CAD drawings on the building site to see reality before it becomes reality. Using 3D holographic content, they could play with architecture and design to make tweaks and explore new possibilities. MR could also be used to maintain equipment in areas where it’s not possible to deploy a technician on a 24×7 basis, Instead, workers could be instructed on how to make repairs by a remote expert via an MR headset.


In the classroom, educators could use MR in their lessons, from teaching anatomy on a 3D holographic skeleton to teaching music on holographic instruments. While digital classrooms make it possible for remote students to take part in live lectures, MR will amp it up a notch by bringing the classroom into a student’s home, providing an immersive, interactive environment. The possibilities are endless, but MR will no doubt change the way that students learn.


Interacting with holographic images in real-world settings could help with both design and production, from faster prototyping to better collaboration. MR has the potential to change the entire product development process and allow remote teams — from any part of the globe — to work together on a design in real time.

Mixed reality isn’t just another buzzword. It has the potential to change the way we create and consume content in both our personal and business lives. Throw in the Internet of Things and emerging tech like 5G, and mixed reality starts offering untold possibilities.

While virtual reality is about immersing ourselves in another world, mixed reality is about interacting with digital content in the real world — and this 'mix' will soon be our everyday reality.

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Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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