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Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality to make way for Mixed Reality

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

While VR was a thing of past and AR is making a buzz at present, MR will rule the future

By Beas Dev Ralhan, CEO and Co-founder, Next Education

The K–12 sector underwent a vast transformation over the past decade. A revolution was brought forth by educators dedicated to make learning fun and interactive. Audio-visual content and virtual reality (VR) videos were made a part of the curriculum to make learning immersive. However, due to the limitations of VR, educators’ focus shifted from VR videos to augmented reality (AR) videos. Presently, the question is: what is the next big thing in audio-video content that can add value to the K–12 sector? The answer is mixed reality.

What is mixed reality?
Also known as hybrid reality, mixed reality (MR) is the dynamic integration of real  and virtual worlds for the creation of an environment where real and virtual objects can co-exist and interact with each other in real time. Hence, MR can be said to be an amalgamation of AR and VR technologies. Unlike being in a virtual environment, as is the case with VR technology, MR offers a seamless integration of virtual and real environments. Virtual objects are placed in real environments to augment reality and provide truly immersive experiences.

Why is it great for the education sector?
The presentation of two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) audio-visual content in classrooms is a move away from rote learning and 30-minute long monologues, given by teachers, that are punctured only occasionally by questions from students. However, when audio-visual content is presented in a classroom, all the students present in the classroom are expected to follow the content at the same pace. If a student finds a part of a video difficult to understand, the only way he/she can gain clarity is after revisiting the topic after class. This creates a disruption in the learning process. New technologies such as MR can prove to be useful. MR videos need not be of any particular duration. The videos are usually designed for specific subjects. For instance, students can have a look at MR videos on the human heart in their biology class. During the class, they will be able to zoom in to go deeper and see the valves of the heart. These videos do not jump from one section to another. Instead, they allow students to experience and witness details while learning about a particular concept or topic.

Mixed reality can also be used to create virtual labs. Since some experiments are too dangerous to be carried out by school students, virtual labs are a viable alternative to real-time experiments conducted in traditional labs. Virtual objects, such as test tubes with chemicals, can be handled by students to conduct real-time experiments while having a hands-on experience.

MR Experience is not Expensive
VR videos come with their own limitations. However, we can incorporate some good features of VR in MR products while designing them. A challenge that we face while using MR or AR videos in K–12 education is that the end products become immensely expensive. We realised that smartphones, which are now owned by almost everyone, have everything that is required to have an enriching MR experience. Although we will miss out on some experiences, the technology can be smartly used to mitigate  the lack of those experience in some way or the other.

MR to Revolutionise Learning
A few brilliant ideas were proposed around MR technology during the Hackathon Next Education conducted this year.  Lego was the inspiration for one of the participating teams, which adopted the structure of blocks to design a few activities for students. One of the activities that this team designed aimed to acquaint pre-primary kids with navigation. The idea proposed would allow  kids to use blocks to move a character from one end of the board to the other.  Directions imprinted on the blocks could be even in native languages for a prompt understanding of students. The directions would help students to move the characters either left or right. Another activity that this team came up with aspires to make Chemistry an interactive subject. Students would be able to use multiple MR blocks of all elements, and on bringing different blocks together chemical compounds would be formed. For example, if students bring together two MR blocks of hydrogen and one MR block of oxygen, they would see water being formed, which they can see through a MR app designed specifically for the purpose.

Corporations such as Facebook and Google have already started investing in the technology of mixed reality. Deep Motion and Magic Leap are MR startups that have created quite a buzz in the market. In fact, Magic Leap is all set to launch its first product, which has gained a lot of traction in the tech world. Thus, we can expect Indian educational organisations to step up their game and provide innovative MR solutions to make learning interactive.

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