The launch of a new ‘Mixed Reality’ headset by technology start-up Magic Leap has provoked a flurry of speculation around what the new technology could bring to the field of education. An article in Edtech media EdSurge, speculates that the new Magic Leap One Mixed Reality kit could transform interactive learning in a far more profound way than experiments with VR and Augmented Reality equivalents have achieved. The Magic Leap technology joins Microsoft’s HoloLense in a new wave of MR tech starting to come to market.
So what exactly is Mixed Reality and why is the technology thought to hold so much potential for the education sector? Virtual Reality consists of an entirely simulated digital world. Its aim is for the user to feel submersed in the alternative VR environment with their real surroundings blocked out. Augmented Reality, popularised by the Pokémon Go phenomenon, overlays data onto the user’s view of the real world around them. So, in Pokémon Go, you look at the world around you through your smartphone, and the technology overlays animated Pokémon onto it. Sounds overlaid onto reality, such as real time translation technology, would also count as AR.
Mixed Reality can be defined as a progression of Augmented Reality. The difference is that the virtual data overlaid onto the real world is ‘fixed’ in relation to real world objects and behaves in accordance with real world laws of physics. In MR, a virtual cat would sit on a real table as it would do in real life and not float in the air as a Pokémon might do in Pokémon Go. If you bounced a Mixed Reality digital ball off a real wall, it would be expected to bounce according to the laws of physics that would dictate how a real ball would bounce if thrown the same way against the same wall. In summary, Mixed Reality aims for the seamless integration of Augmented Reality data with the user’s perception of the real world.
While Mixed Reality is very much an early stage technology, crucially when it comes to the amount of ‘experiences’ available through the first headsets, it offers tantalising possibilities for educators and learners. Lessons on concepts such as the force of gravity or even studying art would be transformed. Writing for EdSurge, Maya Georgieva describes this as:
“A highly dynamic and visual context infused with spatial audio cues reacting to your gaze, gestures, gait, voice and even your heartbeat, all referenced with your geo-location in the world”.
“This will open a whole new world for experimentation across many fields of study. The interplay of sensors, machine learning and visuals, when done right, may feel like magic, as objects react to the users’ actions and respect the physics of the real world”.
It can be expected that market forces will mean game developers will be the first to design Mixed Reality experiences, However, as the technology develops the way it holds the potential to break the boundaries between physical and digital worlds will offer a blank canvas for new approaches to learning.