Illustration of Mixed Reality Development
October 29, 2021

Mixed Reality Development: Why and How to Get Started

Version Control

Chances are, you or someone on your team is trying to break into mixed reality development. Mixed reality is the latest technology that blends the real world with digital experiences. Most major tech companies are investing in their own vision of the metaverse — i.e. the more connected future of the internet. That means mixed reality is quickly moving from an emerging technology to our new reality.

While it is still in its infancy, organizations across many industries have already begun developing mixed reality applications for their business. This tech has the potential to make certain processes safer, more efficient, and more collaborative.

For many industries, the question isn’t if they should adopt this tech, but when and how. Read on for examples of mixed reality across industries, use-cases of mixed reality, and how to get started with mixed reality development.

What Is Mixed Reality?

Mixed reality is the use of connected technology to interact with digital objects in physical spaces.

What this looks like: a digital, scale model of a car that you can move around on your desk. Or it could look like a colleague’s avatar appearing to stand next to you while you talk through a product launch from your home office.

Mixed Reality vs. Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

It may help to outline some differences between mixed reality and other types of extended reality — which is the term that encapsulates virtual reality, augmented reality, and other ways we use devices and software to create digital experiences in physical spaces.

Virtual Reality

You are fully immersed in the digital world, such as with a VR video game.

Tech used: Virtual reality headsets like Oculus (soon to be called Meta Quest) or HTC VIVE

Augmented Reality

Digital objects are placed on top of, or overlayed on, the real world. You see them via your device’s camera or on a car’s windshield.

Tech used: Tablets, phones, heads-up automobile displays

Mixed Reality

Digital objects are not just overlayed on but anchored to the physical world, and you can interact with them.

Tech used: Mixed reality headsets like Microsoft HoloLens or Magic Leap

Mixed Reality Head-Mounted Displays

Mixed reality head-mounted displays (HMDs) basically look like big goggles. They project images onto lenses in such a way that they appear to be in front of the wearer. Like with virtual reality (VR) headsets, they come with handheld controllers to interact with digital objects. Some HMDs even have eye-tracking capabilities. They are different from VR sets in that you can see through the lenses to the world around you.

Examples of Mixed Reality Across Industries

Multiple industries have already recognized the potential that mixed reality offers. Here are some examples of how some industries are already investing in mixed reality development.

Manufacturing

Mixed reality development in manufacturing has primarily focused on increasing efficiency for employees with technical jobs. According to a recent report commissioned by Microsoft, Task Guides and Task Management are currently the highest use case of mixed reality in manufacturing.

Some manufacturers are already using mixed reality to walk technicians through complicated processes. It can help provide safety information, as it is needed. It can also be used to contact other experts who can give visual instructions on a task.

Healthcare

According to that same report commissioned by Microsoft, the most popular use-case for mixed reality in the healthcare industry is training & simulation. Mixed reality gives healthcare organizations the opportunity to provide hands-on experience that is low-cost and risk-free. Holographic simulations give healthcare workers the chance to practice surgical procedures, learn anatomy, and more. In the future, we can expect to see mixed reality used in telehealth, as well.

Architecture

In the architecture industry, mixed reality is being used to improve communication of design plans to stakeholders and teams. Plus, like virtual reality in architecture, mixed reality gives designers the ability to preview a finished project in order to make better-informed decisions. But mixed reality also gives them the chance to see the finished project within its actual physical environment. As the space-mapping technology of mixed reality headsets improves, architects may also use them to spot potential problems within the physical space.

Reasons to Start Investing in Mixed Reality Development

The power of mixed reality technology lies in its flexibility. Teams can use it to imagine new ways to revolutionize processes and visualization. And once a team has begun mixed reality development, they can find new, creative ways to use it across the organization. Here are some possibilities mixed reality offers any industry.

Training & Development

Mixed reality provides the possibility of training new employees about complex systems, equipment, etc. more safely and efficiently, and within the actual environment they will use the information in. Paired with digital twin technology, objects within mixed reality environments can even incorporate real-time data.

Remote Collaboration

Mixed reality also provides the opportunity for remote teams to collaborate virtually in real spaces. Spatial is one example of a company that creates solutions like this. For teams using a HoloLens, Microsoft Mesh is the platform for enabling mixed reality collaboration.

Turning Concept into Pre-Production

Another use of mixed reality development: creating unique experiences for customers or decision makers. Mixed reality gives us the ability to visualize concepts in new and powerful ways. Imagine giving the people you need buy-in from the ability to manipulate a digital prototype on the table in front of them. They could turn it around in their hands, place it in the room, or take it apart.

Getting Started with Mixed Reality Development

Once a team has decided they have the time, budget, and buy-in to start mixed reality development, they need to make a plan. Some of the initial stages of getting started with mixed reality development may include:

Deciding on Your First Project

To make a detailed plan for your team’s first mixed reality project, you will want to determine where to focus your efforts. Start by asking:

  • Where could my team save time in the long run using mixed reality?
  • What could we save money on in the long run?
  • How could mixed reality change the way we plan? Collaborate?
  • Which of our data could be better communicated with mixed reality?

Creating a Mock-Up

3D modeling can be time-consuming if your team does not have a lot of experience in it. For an initial mockup, consider drafting the mixed reality experience by bodystorming. This is a process wherein teams use basic modeling materials to build physical prototypes of mixed reality objects. Steps like this let you cheaply and easily get a feel for the experience before you allocate resources to mixed reality development.

Getting Help

There are many organizations that specialize in creating extended and mixed reality solutions for a range of industries. But if you would prefer to go in-house, you may want to reach out to the company whose mixed reality tech you are considering. They likely have teams, guides, or kits to help potential users get started with mixed reality development. Microsoft HoloLens, for example, has a learning path for developing mixed reality experiences using Unreal Engine.

Tools Needed for Mixed Reality Development

Some tools that teams may potentially use in developing mixed reality experiences include:

Mixed Reality Software Development Kits

Many makers of head-mounted displays offer kits (some even for free) to help aspiring mixed reality developers learn how to use their technology.

Game Engines

Game engines like Unity or Unreal are excellent tools for mixed reality development. For one, they allow teams to create stunning visual experiences. Moreover, they enable mixed reality developers to render 3D visualizations within the digital space in real-time, and to test multiple iterations very quickly.

Version Control

To handle the many large files and iterations involved in using a game engine, you will need a powerful version control system. Version control lets you manage changes to files over time and store these modifications in a database, giving your team a single source of truth.

Version Mixed Reality Assets with Helix Core

Perforce Helix Core is the version control system of choice for teams using a game engine. It manages your digital assets quickly and securely. It is the ultimate collaboration tool for teams who need to bring development work together into one place. And it is the only version control tool that has the performance required to manage the numerous, extremely large files associated with Unity and Unreal. Helix Core also offers integrations with many tools that teams may use for mixed reality development, like 3ds Max, Maya, and more.

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