Back in 2016 I did a presentation on the Future of VR.  On one slide was titled: VR, AR, MR… XR?  Basically wondering how to describe yet another way to experience VR where Virtual World, is mapped to the real world, but its fully immerse, but one or two real things pop through.  Ug.  So I started to refer to the whole continuum of VR-AR-MR as xR.  Seems this was not an original idea, lately I have been seeing XR used in the press to refer to Extended Reality to represent the set of the various acronyms we have been using.  Great.  But that is not solving the problem. We still have this alphabet soup of R’s.

So what I have now starting to do is not think about something as VR, AR, HUD or whatever R, but instead of levels of immersion. By thinking of the application of XR, I think we get away from the traps of which XR we want to use.  You have fully-immersive, as with VR, semi-immersive like AR and MR and non-immersive like various AR and HUD systems.  By thinking about it in this way, we do not worry about which of the XR’s we are talking about, but instead what is the immersive quality of the simulation and how does that affect the users experience?

For example; pain aversion.  It does not matter if its AR or VR, what matters is if the patient’s attention is sufficiently redirected to reduce pain and anxiety. A pilot does not care if you call the advanced helmet display a HUD or AR, but instead, does the pilot understand the information in context to the landing and how the weather is affecting the aircraft’s approach vector.  Also how does one interact with the content?  Do we need deep haptic immersion or is simply viewing with an HMD or even holding a display, like a phone, good enough?

When thinking about which of the various R’s in XR we want to explore, we need to start with the use case.  What is it we are trying to achieve? Far too often I hear people talk about using VR for this or that and I have to keep asking; WHY?  What are you gaining from going into a VR simulation when looking at that same content on a screen is actually better HCI. “Here is the idea; you can see excel data as dots in VR!”  ‘Great, but I still need to read the numbers…’  “Oh you just gaze over dot by bot and you can get the numbers.” Sigh. This was an actual conversation BTW.  If we were talking about thousands of values, perhaps, but it was any excel sheet.

When exploring any XR technology, lets not be a hammer looking for a nail.  Instead lets ask, How would immersion improve the experience?  Then when we have that answer, we should ask, what level of immersion is best suited to that task.  THEN we can determine which of the many XR’s we should employ.

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