XR explained in 5 minutes
I look into the robot’s bright eyes and reach out to grab its hands. And then we’re whirling around the room, dancing. I grin and sway. Giving the robot a little spin it twirls around and I follow. For a moment my brain is convinced by the illusion in front of my eyes. I am there, dancing with the robot. I burst out in laughter as the robot and I dance. My wife comes scrambling in to check on the commotion. Her disembodied voice pulls me out of the colorful wonderland of virtual reality. I’m back to real life, in my living room, the illusion temporarily broken.
That’s the magic of VR. It pulls you in from the moment you strap on the headset, immerses you for the duration of your experience, and leaves you with lasting impressions well after you take the headset off.
We’re at the beginning of a major shift in the world. From crypto and NFTs, to Mark Zuckerberg talking about the Metaverse, SpaceX, and advancements in AI. These are exciting times in the technology industry. In the next ten years, we’re going to see such rapid, exponential growth in technology that the way we work, play, and live will be unrecognizable from today. Think about how different daily life if today from 20-30 years ago. The internet, and then smartphones, did that. The next waves of tech will have the same or greater change to society.
It's hard to keep up — it’s hard for companies to know where to focus their energy. But XR is already here. It's not in the distant future. It’s bringing joy to millions. It's impacting the top and bottom lines of the world's largest companies. It’s not only for gaming and entertainment, even though dancing with robots is more fun than it should be.
Picture this, you’re perched 100 feet over the water, on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that descends 2,000 feet to the seabed. As you look down to sea, your heart skips. The work on an oil rig is dirty, it's smelly, and it's dangerous. Working on oil rigs is in the top 10 most dangerous jobs on the planet. One forgotten step in handling the machinery could spell death or serious injury.
But effective safety training saves lives and industrial companies invest millions into training.
What if you could train an oil rig worker before they’re operating machinery at sea? What if you could train them in a safe environment?
What is XR?
XR is the blanket term for all types of digital realities: augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR).
XR can stand for “extended reality”, but I like to think of the 'X' as a placeholder for any reality, regardless of the depth of immersion.
Virtual reality is a completely immersed version of XR. Users wear a headset that allows them to be completely immersed in a virtual world — no real-world elements. This can be very effective for gaming, but also training simulations, and marketing products.
AR is when digital images exist within the physical world. Unlike VR the user can see their normal surroundings, but with digital layered in. Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap are the most known AR headset manufacturers, but any modern smartphone is the most common use case.
Mixed Reality — MR — brings the real world and digital together. It’s for interacting with both digital and physical environments at the same time. Similar to AR, but the difference is the emphasis on interacting with real world items with a digital overlay. It’s common in healthcare, industrial, and military applications.
Why XR is special
XR has a unique superpower: presence. There’s a sense of spatial immersion. You are inside of the content, an effect you can't achieve with 2D software, lecture-based training, or Zoom.
This presence within a 3D environment is intuitive and natural to humans. We learn and experience the world by seeing, by being in it, and by doing from the moment we’re born. Only later in school and work do we begin to learn by proxy through reading and watching lectures or videos.
You can learn a lot through watching a well-crafted video. But short of actually being there, or experiencing something yourself, XR is the best way to learn.
XR connects people in ways that aren’t possible through 2D. Zoom fatigue is real, but meetings in VR are wonderful. They bring back presence, side conversations, spatial cues, and feel natural. You can have a face-to-face brainstorm with 10 people across the world, no plane tickets necessary.
Plus XR has another superpower.
It isn’t real.
- An oil rig worker can learn a difficult task before being in danger
- A medical student can open a thousand VR cadavers at no extra cost
- A car salesperson can let you see all configurations of a car in seconds without needing a thousand cars on the lot.
These two superpowers combined are why the XR industry is growing so fast. It’s expected to rise from $31 billion in 2021 to close to $300 billion by 2024 [Source]. Over 23 million jobs will be enhanced by XR within 10 years, up from 800 thousand in 2019 [Source].
“AR is one of these very few profound technologies that we will look back on one day and say, how did we live our lives without it? … So I’m AR fan number one. I think it’s that big.”
Tim Cook, CEO Apple
The XR players
XR is a budding industry with a new startup every day. Some are building new experiences, some the infrastructure to support XR, some will create new business models we haven't seen before and unlock new waves of innovation.
Big tech is in XR too. Facebook is going all-in on the Metaverse (not sure what that is, start here). Facebook already has 20% of their engineering staff focused on XR, and they’re hiring 10,000 more engineers in Europe. They want to build the Metaverse with European values built-in, and to preemptively ward off regulation I'm sure.
Apple is putting LIDAR sensors into iPhones and iPads and rumor has it they'll launch a headset soon.
Microsoft has the most popular AR/MR headset - the HoloLens. They sell thousands to the world's largest industrial and healthcare players, and to the US military.
In addition to big tech, there are many infrastructure companies, like Nvidia, Qualcomm, Unity, and Unreal. And service companies like PTC and countless smaller agencies to help with deployment.
The Best Use Cases
Innovative employers are snapping up headsets, hiring more XR developers than exist, and leveraging XR to train, sell, and connect people.
Entertainment and Games
You already knew that though
- Hazardous jobs
- Healthcare and Medical jobs
- Expensive or dangerous to train jobs
- Difficult to train things, like soft skills such as firing an employee
Marketing and Sales
- Showcasing products and services: boutique hotels, 3D VR commerce
- Large or expensive products: boats, planes, industrial machinery
- Cool experiences that drive brand awareness
- See it in your home: Ikea and Amazon place a sofa
- Sales calls and business development in VR instead of Zoom
Audi uses VR in their dealerships. Customers can configure their dream car in VR and see it right in front of them. Selling cars via VR has led to more sales and higher selling points than traditional sales. By experiencing their dream car VR customers buy more add-on features. Plus it's helped them maintain sales during the pandemic.
- Brainstorming/whiteboarding remotely
- Team onboarding and initial training without flying or zoom. This is increasingly important in a remote world. See Accenture
Web 1.0 -> Mobile -> Social -> Web 2.0 -> Web3 including XR
We’re in a new tech era and XR is now.
Various key technologies have come together to allow for exciting XR experiences at an affordable price
- High fidelity, tiny screens
- Powerful chips from the smartphone industry
- Motion tracking sensors
- Gaming engines
The Oculus Quest 2 is the most popular consumer XR device because it's powerful, doesn't need a tethered PC, has a ton of content, and only costs $300.
The only bottleneck for mass adoption is comfort. XR headsets are a bit bulky at the moment. But like cell phones, we know where this will go.
Your friends, customers, employees, and stakeholders will begin asking for XR options. If you don't give it to them, your competitors will.
Get ahead of the curve.
- Learn more about XR
- Explore training your staff
- Get in touch with me to explore building an XR roadmap for your business