As extended reality (XR) develops, it has the possibility to engage in virtually every sector in the coming years.
XR encompasses virtual reality (VR)—a fully immersive, 360-degree digital world—augmented reality (AR), which allows you to interact with the physical world, with digital overlays, and mixed reality (MR)—an umbrella term for anything mixing the virtual and physical worlds in some way.
In its current form, XR is most widely used in the gaming industry. VR headsets—such as those developed by Meta and Sony—provide a completely immersive and highly interactive experience, making XR an ideal gaming technology.
While we think of gaming as solely entertainment-based video games, the EQUIS lab is developing exergames—digital games that incorporate physical activity—and educational games that use AR to bring topics to life in the classroom.
“Every new technology needs something to drive it and generate initial interest so people are purchasing, and developers are developing. Games are the driver for mixed reality right now,” said Nicholas Graham, computer science professor and EQUIS lab director, in an interview with The Journal.
With Meta and Apple making large investments into XR development, the market is expected to surpass $197.3 billion in 2023. As this expansion occurs, more widespread applications are beginning to emerge.
“We have the opportunity now with VR, to have remote meetings where everybody is brought into a shared [virtual] space and you see them, you can use your arms to gesture and point at things, you can have shared artifacts you’re working on,” Graham said. “You have a sense of the presence of other people who are around you.”
In the arts, VR allows for virtual tours of famous museums, while AR is creating interactive experiences within museums. XR also improves accessibility and connects people globally as opportunities emerge for live translation.
“The way I see it, XR is a replacement for almost anything you could do with [current] technology,” said Hugh Tuckwell, CompSci ’26, and Queen’s Extended Reality Club (QXR) founder and co-chair, in an interview with The Journal.
XR headsets are becoming more popular, but headset manufacturers struggle to balance comfort and cost.
“Your head isn’t designed to have any sort of extra weight on it. The way XR works right now is by basically strapping a brick to your face, so a lot of companies are working on slimming that down,” Tuckwell said.
Tuckwell said VR headsets contain high-resolution displays that are super pixel-dense combined with internal and external cameras, lenses, speakers, and more. Not only does this complex construction make it very difficult to condense into something that resembles a pair of glasses, but it makes the headsets expensive to manufacture.
As the technology continues to develop, other fields are extensively researching potential XR applications, including medical simulation training.
These trainings are being used to help students practice certain procedures or provide clinical teams with high fidelity scenarios to develop teamwork, leadership, and communication skills. Students can practice and learn without putting patients at risk in real clinical environments.
The Clinical Simulation Centre (CSC) in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s is investigating the role AR has in improving medical simulation training.
“We can teach some very fundamental skills in our current simulators, but they just aren’t realistic enough to develop true expertise and the high-level cognitive skills someone needs to work in a complex clinical environment,” Medical Director of the CSC Dr. Daniel Howes said in an interview with The Journal.
AR creates an opportunity to bridge the disparity of realism that exists between the modelled scenario and its real-life equivalent, Howes explained. Inanimate mannequins are overlayed with holograms of patients to give “life” to the mannequin, allowing students to practice interactive tasks with a conscious patient. AR makes the simulated patients more realistic by replicating signs and symptoms that would be observed in a real patient.
The CSC’s resources aren’t limited to medical students. The simulation labs welcome students from across the faculty including nursing, respiratory therapy, and physiotherapy students.
“They train as a team because we have to work as a team in the end. It doesn’t make sense that everybody goes off and does all their learning by themselves, and then comes together and tries to work with the team. This is a great way to bring everybody together and do inter-professional training,” Howes said.
Given the cost of clinical simulation technology—current mannequin simulators cost over $100,000—Howes is excited to see AR advancements decrease medical simulation expenses.
Despite its numerous beneficial applications and exciting potential, not everyone sees XR positively. Tuckwell said some people think immersive VR worlds—like the Metaverse—cause individuals to miss out on the real world.
“I think [technology’s interference in social interactions] is just sort of a natural extension of communicative technology at this point. I don’t know if there’s a way around it,” Tuckwell said.
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