The trend of Extended Reality, otherwise known as XR, encompasses the different experiential technology genres of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). AR enriches the physical world with purely visual digital screens or overlays in the right place at the right time; VR is a fully immersive digital experience requiring special headsets; and MR is at the intersection of both, infusing interactive virtual content within the physical world.
Early XR applications made their appearance to the wider public when Google Glass was released in 2014, allowing users to view virtual elements inserted into their surroundings via an AR lens. While mass market popularity of AR reached its peak in 2016 with the launch of interactive smartphone and tablet apps like Pokémon GO and Snapchat, enterprise adoption of AR began its slow but steady climb during these years, with smart glasses first introduced to the supply chain for workflow guidance and seamless, hands-free remote support. In 2018, Oculus released the first VR stand-alone, head-up displays for consumers. With VR’s ability to create a fully immersive virtual experience through headsets, the gaming market was an early adopter but, over time, many enterprises, including those in logistics, recognized the potential of 360° virtual content for engagement and worker training, and VR now continues to gain traction.
With ongoing AR and VR developments, MR – a new form of XR – began to emerge in recent years. Unlike AR, MR not only displays additional virtual content onto reality but also utilizes elements of the physical world to contextualize the virtual content, allowing virtual content to blend in or interact with physical objects through a lens, like having virtual goods appear to move along a real conveyor belt in an actual warehouse. MR technology allows users to not only view virtual objects, but also collaboratively interact with them, opening up an array of possible use cases yet to be explored. Like VR, MR requires dedicated hardware, but it differs in that the virtual experience is not fully immersive; users generally remain cognizant of the physical world surrounding them but can also see embedded interactive virtual elements.
Overall, XR headset sales massively increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching a global total of 11.2 million units shipped in 2021. On the software side, we have seen major developments with more and more providers like TeamViewer offering no-code editors as part of their applications. This enables logistics companies and other organizations to easily generate and manage their own content for XR applications.
Today, multiple industries including logistics are using AR smart glasses for workflow guidance and remote support, and there is a lot of potential for even wider application. Similarly, companies are also using VR, particularly for training and simulation. First examples of use cases can be seen in logistics and there is also much potential to scale these applications. Still in a nascent stage, MR can be expected to develop quickly within the near future and it is interesting to imagine the use cases where MR is likely to offer real differentiation, going beyond AR to achieve more than just enhancing the user experience.