VR/AR/MR – the different realities driving digital transformation

Using a virtual reality headset

The different realities driving digital transformation


How many realities are too many realities?!  In this rapidly changing world of digital transformation, it’s becoming increasingly common to hear terms like virtual reality, augmented reality and even mixed reality.

I want to unpack these various forms of “reality” and hopefully provide a simple explanation and basic understanding of what these are, how they differ and how they’re contributing to the digital transformation of organisations.

People have defined Virtual Reality (VR) in many ways, but the most basic definition that gets right to the heart of it is: “an artificial digital environment that completely replaces the real world”[1].

The reason I like this definition is that it neatly separates VR from augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), which are often said in the same breath. While VR requires you to be fully immersed in an entirely digitally created world, AR and MR are grounded in the real world, with digital elements overlaying it.

Virtual Reality is “an artificial digital environment that completely replaces the real world”

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR has been around for a while and has found real use in a few sectors such as healthcare, travel and real-estate. It often requires a user to wear a headset that covers their eyes and ears, fully immersing themselves inside a simulated environment. Having your field of vision taken over by a virtual world can trick the brain into thinking you are inside that world. The sounds enhance that trick. The world can be fully computer-simulated, or it can be captured through special 360-degree cameras making them a version of the real-world experienced through a VR headset.

In healthcare, VR has been used in helping surgeons practice tricky surgeries. In real-estate, it has allowed potential buyers to experience their new home before it’s even built.

How it’s transforming organisations: As part of a $2 billion brand refresh that has driven its digital transformation, Best Western Hotels and Resorts created a 360-degree virtual reality (VR) experience across all its North American Hotels[2]. Customers can see a three-dimension view of each hotel’s pool, lobby, fitness centre and one room of each type. Their CMO, Dorothy Dowling, claimed it to be a “game-changer” with customers now able to pre-qualify their experience.

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR is a much less extravagant option which involves creating an experience without physically being in it. It needs a lot less gear, and can even use smartphones to provide the end solution. Some specialised smart glasses are another option for delivering AR content by adding digital content on top of real-world objects.

AR has been popular in advertising, manufacturing, and retail. It’s also been used in museums, making exhibits come to life. As such, most use of AR has been experiential, and it’s less likely to provide a fully immersive learning journey for users.

How it’s transforming organisations: The US Army is giving soldiers improved situations awareness with the use of AR technology[3]. It’s called “Tactical Augmented Reality” (TAR) and features an eyepiece that helps soldiers locate their positions as well as the locations of others – both friend and foe. The coolest part? If a soldier is pointing their weapon at a target, other details such as distance to the target can be seen through the eyepiece.


Mixed Reality (MR)

Moving on to MR… this is a relatively newer addition to the group, and blurs the boundary between VR and AR. Microsoft are largely responsible for the term which came about through their HoloLens[4] product. MR is a more immersive experience than AR which allows users to interact with virtual objects.

How it’s transforming organisations: Renault Trucks has started using MR in one of its factories in Lyon for managing quality controls of its engines[5]. Unlike AR, which displays information on top of reality, mixed reality can add virtual objects into a real environment in the form of holograms, with which users can interact.



In communication, Microsoft has also shown how MR and Skype can be used in conjunction to allow much more immersive interactions between people or work teams.