Unlike hovercrafts, holograms, and humanoid robots, extended reality (XR) is no longer just a futuristic fantasy. XR technology today is a part of our daily lives—a widespread and accessible technology with limitless applications and potential.

What is XR?

XR is a catch-all category for all real-and-virtual combined environments generated by computer technology and wearables. It includes three primary types of technology: virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and augmented reality (AR).

Virtual reality is the classic sci-fi technology you see in popular culture like Black Mirror and Ready Player One. VR offers total immersion—an entire virtual environment that takes the place of reality.

Augmented reality superimposes digital information onto the real world. When you put on a Google Glass or use a Snapchat filter, AR technology simply alters your experience of the real world  rather than removing you from it completely.

Mixed reality encompasses technology that exists in between VR and AR.

Entertainment Origins

While the origins of extended reality are disputed, XR history and development has always been closely tied to video game companies and video game culture.

In 1982, Atari founded a research lab for virtual reality. One of the first affordable VR devices was the Power Glove, a controller accessory developed by Mattel and released in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In the 1990s, widespread commercial releases of consumer headsets became more common. Computer Gaming World predicted “affordable VR by 1994”. Sega announced the release of the Sega VR headset in 1991. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy console was released in 1995.

Over a decade later, the Oculus Rift debuted for the first time at E3 2012. In 2015, HTC and Valve announced the release of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. Shortly afterwards, in 2016, Sony released the PlayStation VR headset.

New Frontiers

Unsurprisingly, the video game industry continues to be at the forefront of innovation in the field–particularly in finding ways to make XR technology more accessible and affordable.

The Oculus and the Vive have paved the way for easily-accessible VR headset technology. Magic Leap is leading the way in MR innovation. The Nintendo Labo made XR technology affordable for a huge audience by using just creatively folded cardboard.

The games being released on XR platforms change the way we experience entertainment. Pokémon Go’s use of AR technology is helping people around the world go outdoors and get exercise.

Endless Applications

The applications of XR technology have proven to go far beyond what could have ever been imagined. Companies like Walmart are using VR to train better workers.

In the medical world, doctors using VR and AR games to train their surgical hand show marked improvement. Psychiatrists use Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) to treat anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and different phobias. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found VR environments effective as a way of offering patients significant relief from all types of pain.

In terms of education and promoting social justice, Games for Change 2019’s XR Summit truly highlighted the different creative applications of XR technology.

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