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Extended Reality Made Simple: The 5-Minute Guide to Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

By: Rajvi Khanjan Shroff

Extended Reality Made Simple: The 5-Minute Guide to Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

With the ability to transport to places you never imagined, experience on a dimension that you never thought possible, and cross the boundary of real and simulated, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are the stuff of sci-fi books such as Ender’s Game and of movies such as Star Trek. This technology is a buzzword in the industry and one of the latest trends.

So here’s what you should know about it:

What is it?

There are three big words in this field that you might have come across: VR, AR, and MR. All three can be lumped into the umbrella term XR, for "extended reality," which captures the essence of the technology: simulating a world with computer generated features, aiming to expand your perspective of your surroundings.

Virtual reality is immersing with a completely new environment, right here and right now. There are 2 kinds: immersive and non-immersive. Some applications include 3-D models and in training athletes.

Immersive VR is experienced through a headset, with the input from a computer generation. This causes a person to feel as if they are in the new world, both mentally and physically. A neat property of this kind of immersion is that the world changes as you move similarly to how it does when you move your head in reality.

In non-immersive VR, you don’t feel as if you are completely “within” the world, meaning that you have a connection with the real world, unlike immersive VR where the surroundings are replaced with the new world.

Moving onto AR, which is similar to VR. Here, the view around us is simply enhanced by digital elements, and is experienced through the camera on the smartphone. Examples include Google Maps Live view, 3-D movies, and QR codes.

Mixed Reality is an experience that combines both AR and VR characteristics. The latest example is the Microsoft HoloLens 2, which allows the viewer to interact with features superimposed in reality. AR makes the additions to our physical world possible, while VR is responsible for the interactive aspect of the experience.

These forms of "new" reality extend, or push, the limits of our world, reinventing what we think we know. Together, they form the up-and-coming advancements of tech known as XR.

How is it made possible?

These experiences are made possible by creating an illusion of a world that works according to our own. When the observations we make of the new world match those we are used to, our brain is convinced that our new surroundings are our own, rather than a simulation.

Who uses it?

It is used by everyone: businesses for training their employees and mimicking shopping experiences for their customers, educators to teach students in a more engaging and "hands-on" way, and people for fun and leisurely activities such as video games.

When did it really take off?

There are multiple opinions on this subject. Although AR, VR, and MR have been theorized during the 1800s and prototypes of devices using this technology have been produced during the 1900s, the technology as we know it today has only been shaped by the previous decade, mainly in the last five years. Many speculate that it will become a major industry in the future, while others feel that it's simply a fad that will die down in a few years.

What potential does this hold for us?

If AR, VR, and MR continue to grow rapidly, the benefits will be numerous. From simulating a surgical operation and the feel of being a pilot (training for jobs with real-life situations) to models of classroom concepts (improving e-learning), there are many benefits.

And since big companies like Facebook and others are investing in this new technology, chances are there's something groundbreaking on the horizon.

Which begs the question: what is next?

Works Cited

“AR and VR Applications in Healthcare, Education, and ECommerce.” By Amyra Sheldon,

“History of Virtual Reality.” The Franklin Institute, 16 Nov. 2016,

Pocket-lint. “What Is VR? Virtual Reality Explained.” Pocket, 16 May 2019,

“The Science of Virtual Reality.” The Franklin Institute, 26 Aug. 2017,

“What's the Difference Between AR, VR, and MR?” The Franklin Institute, 29 Sept. 2017,


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