A brief summary to equip you with the essential knowledge.

Virtual, mixed, and augmented reality and the opportunities arising from them.

Alvaro Perez
8 min readNov 5, 2020

As you come into the room, you can see two men playing a friendly ping pong match. Everything natural, except that there is no table, there is no ball, and there are no rackets. A video featuring such a marvelous match became viral last year. The two players are using Stereolab’s’ ZED Mini and HTC Vive, the world’s first camera mixed-reality camera that employs virtual and augmented reality simultaneously.

The term virtual reality became popular in the late 1980s by Jaron Lanier, one pioneer in the field, although its roots date three decades earlier: the MIT created in 1951 a military immersive flight simulator, thought for the training of bomber pilots, in the frame of the Whirlwind project. VR has been the “next big thing” since always, but more recently the market has been moving in a direction that gives us many hints that this time the technology is here to stay. Nowadays, several similar — yet different — technologies coexist: virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. Let us have a quick dive into their definitions and characteristics.

The difference between virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality is subtle: while in virtual reality you get immersed into an artificial, computer-created world by using special head-mounted glasses that hide the physical world around you, augmented reality lets you continue to perceive it, in addition with some computer-made elements. In the case of the ping-pong game, both players could see the actual room in which they were, but a computer created the table, rackets, and balls for them to play. But you can have augmented reality from your cell phone, as it happened with the record-breaking game Pokemon Go, the fastest ever to earn $100 million and most-downloaded in its first month of release.

Virtual reality and its applications

Far away from the 2D screens, we witness a fascinating dance in time between the designer and a new object taking shape. The Lübeck-based company Gabler introduced VR technologies to produce engineering pieces and even co-create with their clients (https://www.wls-gabler.de/en/service/vr-technique/). According to its designers, the powers of using VR against the conventional 2D design tools (screens, pen, or a mouse) are the speed of manipulations and the immediate impression of proportions in relation to bodies or the surrounding. But there is further, and here is where the wizardry of the digital transformation synergies of several technologies come together: thanks to 3D printing, they can bring these models into the physical world in just a matter of hours. For companies like Gabler, using VR in their product design has granted a 15 percent plunge in development time, limitation of risks and snags in the development process, and more efficient collaborations with their business partners. Another great example, still into the engineering field: when Bell Helicopter implemented VR into their design pipeline, they cut down design time from 5–7 years to under 6 months, a striking 10x speed increase…And the story does not end in designing. Walmart bought last year 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to train 1 million of its employees in virtual reality.

In the low-cost, B2C market, the high price of virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive is causing consumers to opt for VR on mobile phones. It must be made clear that the experience is less immersive on mobile than on PC, but we can have a fun time in this low-cost model. App developers have spotted this trend and got down to business. Thanks to the new processors integrated into smartphones, we can enjoy this technology anywhere. If we get in the Google Play Store or Appstore we will have a considerable diversity of applications and games devised for virtual reality. Some software such as Trinus VR that allow you to play games on your computer using very cheap VR glasses designed to install your smartphone on them — once again, not the best experience, but definitely one for almost all budgets. The bulk of virtual reality applications are 360 ​​videos, which do not support interaction with the environment — we will come to this later on when we’ll talk about mixed reality. However, we also have entertaining games and apps a few clicks away.

Augmented reality and its applications

The applications of AR in marketing are manyfold but mostly focused on helping your clients to take decisions, whether they are buying decisions or self-service customer care actions. One of the major reasons many women do not buy makeup products online is because it is impossible to know how they look without trying first — a similar effect takes place with clothing, another classic environment in which AR will heavily grow in the forthcoming years. To deal with this problem, Sephora created an augmented reality experience named the Virtual Artist App. Using this app, Sephora’s potential clients can simulate the results of the products on their faces through their mobile cameras. The app takes care of simulating the effect of the make in real-time over their image. In a totally different field, Mercedes Benz takes advantage of AR in its Ask Mercedes virtual assistant. Through the wizard, customers can scan an item in their vehicle’s dashboard and learn about its functionality. They can also ask queries about malfunctions they detect. Combined with an artificial intelligence chatbot, the assistant’s AR element frees Mercedes with thousands of otherwise human-driven customer service claims. Apple and Facebook have their own bet in the field, and definitely, one to have an eye on. It is the glasses developed under the so-called Project Aria in the case of Facebook — a project in partnership with Rayban — and Apple Glasses in the case of Apple. These devices will add several layers of virtual information to reality when we look at it through its lenses. And both are due, regarding the last reports, for just next year, 2021. Facebook will also open its Messenger app and its Portal smart video calling device to Augmented Reality apps built on its Spark AR camera effects platform (https://sparkar.facebook.com/ar-studio/). The company has declared that over 600 million people use applications created with Spark AR on Facebook and Instagram, and over 400,000 creators from 190 countries have published effects — the already classical “you with a dog face while using a Messenger video call” — made with the platform for both social networks. These developers have released 1.2 million AR effects to date. Using these types of applications also proliferated during the quarantine. You may not be very interested in this kind of camera effects, but this gives you a strong here about where we are going: a crowd-based community of creators working on AR applications for Apple and Facebook platforms. The iPhone revisited.

Mix them’ all!

And then you have mixed reality (MR). As its name states, MR is a mix between AR and VR. This technology allows you to interact with actual objects within a virtual world, or reproduce virtual elements while viewing the real world. Closed headphones are also necessary, but these have a camera so that the user can see reality and combine it with virtual environments. Education is one sector that can benefit from mixed reality. Thanks to it, we can immerse students into a learning environment in which they learn through examples made with holograms, interact with them, and thus better assimilate the lesson concepts. However, its high cost means that it is still far from being incorporated into the day-to-day life of schools. In healthcare, mixed reality technologies have many potential applications. The most obvious is training and education. One example is “over the shoulder” surgeries, where surgical students can be remotely taught by experts while performing surgeries in real-time. We can teach topics such as anatomy with mixed reality technology by mapping the different layers of the human body on a virtual 3D model. Being able to produce complete 3D anatomy models with information accessible with a simple gesture could change the way we teach health care and medicine.

Where to start?

If you are interested in joining the VR/AR development community, it is easy to get started into VR by learning A-Frame, a popular open-source web framework based on top of HTML. Originally developed by Mozilla, A-Frame has become an open-source project with a large community of users. Part of its success is because of its simplicity, making it easy to work from an HTML file by adding scripts to create complex objects or environments, not just limited to 360 stage degrees, but incorporating the data obtained by the position sensors and controllers that most VR headsets on the market have. A-Frame currently supports Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, Daydream, Cardboard, and also Augmented Reality (AR) applications. But of course, this is not the end of the story. The myriad of the sectors we have mentioned in such a brief article — from video games to education, to medical AR or advertising to retail and automotive — makes the number of technologies involved in extended reality a huge list: Google’s ARCore and Daydreams, Maya, Android Unity, Unreal, Autodesk Remake and Recap… the list is eternal. Individuals and companies alike would need to have second-thoughts first on why and what for do they need to invest or get into the extended reality world. As with every digital transformation process, thorough due diligence will save money and time spent for no good.

In summary

Design teams gain in performance and speed when designing their prototypes and allow for customer-centric production flows. Production teams can benefit from immersive design and training, the power of which is to fix information profoundly into the user’s memory, as we saw in the medical learning examples. Communication departments use VR to animate their professional events, such as trade shows, seminars, agency evenings, or product launches. The marketing departments can turn a boring catalog into a virtual showroom, even a full new sales channel. More and more sales management leaders equip their sales force with lightweight and easy-to-use VR headsets to avoid flaws and omissions during product demonstrations.

Virtual reality technologies are now well developed, and many projects and cases show its benefits and business viability. The technology that was once the eternal promise is coming soon to our everyday life. The holograms that fascinated us when we first saw them in films like Star Wars will be more and more a core part of our buying experiences. Every business should try to take advantage of virtual reality before it becomes the practice in its industry. However, companies are still slow to equip themselves, despite the help. The great opportunity is waiting there, outside your door.



Alvaro Perez

I blog about innovation, technology and digital transformation. Check my site at sagabria.com