Metaverse mixed reality augmented reality

Why Extended Reality Provides The Building Blocks For The Metaverse

What is Extended Reality and how does this all relate to the concept of the Metaverse? And why does it all matter?

You may be very familiar with the term Virtual Reality, which has been around in some way, shape, or form since 1968 as well as augmented reality, which has also found uses in the consumer space for some time. You might have used Augmented Reality to place digitally-rendered furniture in a room, for example, and may own a VR headset or two.

But you may be less familiar with a few lesser-utilized terms that you will want to be well-acquainted with as they will likely shift how digital experiences are created and developed going forward.

What Is Mixed Reality (MR) Vs Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented Reality, put simply, superimposes a digitally-rendered image or images into real-world space. Unlike Virtual Reality, which is a fully-enclosed experience within a digital environment only, augmented reality allows permeation between digital and real-world spaces.

Mixed Reality is one step further to merging those digital and real-world spaces to create a more immersive experience where elements like 3D touch and olfactory technology and more can be folded in.

Augmented Reality experiences can be considered Mixed Reality, but the strict definition of Mixed Reality encompasses more than basic augmented reality does.

Mixed Reality has some exciting possibilities for industries like healthcare, architecture, construction and beyond. For example, Mixed Reality could provide doctors with the ability to simulate and train for complicated surgeries without having to perform directly on patients.

What Is Extended Reality (XR)?

Extended Reality is the umbrella term that encompasses all the different types of “realities”. Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality are all forms of extended reality and a way we can describe them as a group of digital experiences, which is easy to visualize like this:

Extended Reality diagram showing how mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality are all a part of it.

Extended Reality as a market is being projected to advance rapidly at a CAGR of 45% by 2030 to $497.64 billion as devices become more commonplace and mobile and wearable technology get better at integrating features that allow for more immersive experiences. Soon extended reality training, whether in VR, AR or MR, will likely be commonplace for many education and work environments.

What Does Extended Reality Mean For The Metaverse?

You may have heard a lot about the Metaverse as of late and the shift to building within Web3, but how does extended reality relate to this new imagining of our relationship to the internet? As some of the largest tech companies in the world make big investments into the next phase of the internet, it is crucial to understand that extended reality essentially provides the building blocks for the Metaverse, which like Web 2.0, has enabled shared experiences, but also meshes that with an “open-world” or “worlds.”

Picture putting on your headset and heading into a fully virtual office where you can seamlessly go from one virtual meeting to another, seeing coworkers virtually face-to-face — without Zoom — and afterward decamping to a mixer at a virtual museum. You are probably already engaging with elements of Extended Reality that make it easier to imagine this, just in its current Web 2.0 iteration.

Extended Reality makes it possible to enmesh our physical world with the ones we can create digitally in new and extraordinary ways, providing tools and platforms —whether in VR, AR or MR — all of which make up what we call the metaverse. And in the very near future, the metaverse may be more commonly synonymous with the Internet — a network of spaces, experiences and information that can be accessed in a multitude of ways. 

To give you a sense of where we’re currently at in the trajectory of creating the Metaverse, Unity’s Tony Parisi refers to our current use of the internet as a sort of prototype of what’s to come:

“The Internet is not the Metaverse, at least not yet. The Internet of today is inching its way toward greater capabilities and will form the basis of the Metaverse of tomorrow. In many ways, it is already a prototypical form of the Metaverse, playing host to years of ongoing innovation and experimentation in delivering real-time 3D content, rich media, and virtual worlds. But more work needs to be done.”

And what is that work to be done? It starts with beginning to dip our toes collectively into useful applications of what Extended Reality can do for us today. Whether it’s exploring training teams virtually, constructing buildings digitally to interact with a space before it’s even built or corporations building digital office spaces for workers to interact, we’ll be building the bridge between the theoretical Metaverse to what it will be tomorrow.

Or as Parisi says, “There will come a day when we look upon what we have accomplished, and know that we have done it.”