XR Update: Emerging Realities


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The rate of advance in the use of XR in many areas, along with advances in the hardware and network capability supporting the use of XR, is accelerating. And because things are moving so quickly, let’s do a quick review and an update on recent developments in this field.

The term XR is now being used to cover AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and MR (mixed reality). The first XR could be considered cave wall carvings. But in relatively modern times, I consider the original to be B&W movies. The first was made in 1878 and consisted of a “moving picture” of a racehorse made by assembling individual pictures from multiple cameras. Motion pictures were born on that day.

It took 40 years to reach the next big milestone, color motion pictures. The obvious next step would be motion pictures with sound—that took nine more years (1927), a long time— but the rate of advance had accelerated.

As I mentioned in a previous article, one of the first movies showing a train approaching at full speed caused a panic among those viewing it—some left their seats and, in a panic, exited the viewing area to avoid being hit by the train. Over the next decades, we went to higher quality, higher resolution, sound that synced well with image, initial 3D, and so on. All this led to the initial holodeck-like capabilities we are starting to see today.

Do not think of XR as just an entertainment driven technology. Yes, there are 3D TVs, although that segment has basically failed due to the need to wear special glasses (which will be eliminated in time); and yes, the XR gaming segment is growing. But the real drivers are industrial, medical, military and transportation under remote control. (If you want more detail on this growing and rapidly advancing group of technologies, you might want to read my last two articles covering XR at CES 2018 and the Augmented World Expo (AWE) show.)

With the advances in computer hardware and the resultant higher capabilities, the approach of 5G connectivity, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence (AI), the mix of what is real and what is not, what is in your presence and what is a half a world away or does not really exist, is advancing rapidly and the uses of XR are increasing exponentially.

It has now been about three months since AWE 2018, and CES 2019 is less than five months away. What follows is what we can expect over the next year. Some is speculative, but expect much of it to be announced, discussed and even demonstrated at CES 2019.

One major advance happening faster than anticipated is the installation and activation of the first 5G networks. While 5G is going to be used extensively by far more than smartphones, it is smartphones that the public will first associate with 5G. The first phones with 5G capability will be available in 2019, a full year earlier than what was predicted just two years ago. The first fully commercial 5G networks will be launched in the USA, South Korea and Japan, and probably by multiple carriers. The first small commercial network is already running, set up by Finnish company, Elisa.

According to a study released by Qualcomm Technologies Inc., 5G is projected to contribute $3 trillion to real GDP, produce up to $12.3 trillion worth of goods and services by 2035, and support nearly 22 million jobs. 5G will elevate mobile networks to not only connect people vocally, but primarily to interconnect and control machines, objects, and devices. It will deliver new levels of performance and efficiency that will empower new user experiences and connect new industries.

To read the full version of this article which originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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