Mixed Reality Development: Why and How to Get Started
Chances are, you or someone on your team is trying to break into mixed reality development. Mixed reality (MR) 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 MR 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 MR 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 (MR) and other types of extended reality — which is the term that encapsulates virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and other ways we use devices and software to create digital experiences in physical spaces.
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
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
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 (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.
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.
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.
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, MR gives designers the ability to preview a finished project in order to make better-informed decisions. But MR also gives them the chance to see the finished project within its actual physical environment. As the space-mapping technology of MR 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 MR 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 MR environments can even incorporate real-time data.
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. MR 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 MR?
- What could we save money on in the long run?
- How could MR change the way we plan? Collaborate?
- Which of our data could be better communicated with MR?
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 MR experience by bodystorming. This is a process wherein teams use basic modeling materials to build physical prototypes of MR objects. Steps like this let you cheaply and easily get a feel for the experience before you allocate resources to mixed reality development.
There are many organizations that specialize in creating XR and MR 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 MR 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 MR experiences using Unreal Engine.
Tools Needed for Mixed Reality Development
Some tools that teams may potentially use in developing MR 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 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.
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.