With every passing year, we draw one step closer to a future where extended reality becomes a core part of our everyday experience. Sci-fi books and movies have done their best to redefine the myriad ways this will take place but the real game changers are the various companies that are redefining our future with their own innovative offerings. From businesses that are creating the hardware for virtual reality experiences to those that are establishing the computing foundations for the generation of such tech, we are surrounded by industry leaders who are paving the way for a tech-integrated future. 

The progress towards the extended reality technology we have today has not been an instantaneous one. Cinematographer Morton Heilig is often credited as having created the first virtual reality machine, the Sensorama, that accommodated four people and allowed them to watch a 3D video with different forms of stimulation to recreate the effects of what was being watched, such as vibrations and a wind effect, for a more well-rounded experience. Over time, 3D technology became more commonplace and we began to see it everywhere, from movie theaters to shows at amusement parks.

Many rides at these parks became more and more immersive with time, evolving from gimmicky ten-minute experiences to now allowing you to participate in the content you were watching, providing you with a 360-degree view as you moved around and shot things that appeared in front of you while you had your VR headsets on. Somewhere along the line, the overarching category of extended reality was born. 

Extended Reality

Delving into the Field of Extended Reality

It can get a little confusing to really understand what all these terms are and what the hype is really about. A good place to build up from is starting with our understanding of virtual reality. VR technology takes digital content and allows you to have an up close and personal experience with it. A pair of simple glasses that lets any light source you see turn into bokeh hearts is a silly but simple example of how VR headsets are able to add a lens that lets you see something different in front of you. Whether it’s the landscape of your favorite game or an exotic destination you’ve never been to before, VR technology can allow you to witness it on a much more immersive scale compared to just watching it on tv. Depending on the consoles you pair with the headset, you might even be able to physically interact with what you see, but not all VR headsets are built equally. 

The Google Cardboard headset was one such device, a novel idea that briefly took hold of the company at a time when everyone was crediting the Oculus Rift for reviving the VR industry. Google released a cardboard—yes cardboard—headset way back in 2014, which used a very simple cardboard structure, some magnets, lenses, and your smartphone to experience VR without any of the more complicated bells and whistles of VR technology. The company even provided free access to the device’s plans for those who wanted to build it themselves instead of purchasing the simplistic device, marking a truly magnanimous initiative from the company amidst capitalistic endeavors. Using the gyroscope feature on smartphones to support the head-tracking feature for the VR experience, the headset was a very significant moment in history when other devices were trying to break onto the market.

Then came the conversations around augmented reality (AR), which relied less on immersing you in the experience and instead tried to bring the virtual experience into your world. You might have witnessed apps that are able to project images into your physical space, mapping the region to understand the layout and then presenting an object that adapts to your environment. Snapchat had its AR moment when it allowed you to see your own virtual characters or “Bitmojis” make themselves comfortable in the space next to you. Snapchat’s AR Lens Studio allowed users to create their own lenses and filters to circulate on the platform, highlighting the versatility of what such tech can do. Ikea’s shopping app, which allowed you to view what specific furniture would look like in your space, was another example of AR technology. 

Then came the world of mixed reality (MR), which now stands as a combination of these innovative mechanisms, allowing you to interact with your apps, view movies, play games, attend meetings, manipulate digital objects, and essentially make the virtual experience a fully integrated part of your real one. We already have a few major launches for mixed reality headsets this year, whether you’re considering purchasing the Apple Vision Pro headset for daily use or the Sony XR headset designed for engineers and product designers. Now these headsets and the other upcoming launches give us a lot to look forward to in 2024 but they’re not the only players doing their part to revolutionize the field of extended reality (XR), a blanket term that covers all that is being done with such technology, including VR, AR, and MR. 

Gravity Jack

How Did We Get Here and Where Are We Going With AR? Take a Stroll With Gravity Jack

In the course of our conversation around AR, we were fortunate enough to talk to Luke Richey, Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Gravity Jack, the company that patented augmented reality technology. When asked about the integration and relevance of AR technology, there was a lot to learn from his insight. “While AR has been making its way into the spotlight for a while now, the last few years have seen a strong shift in both consumer preference for AR experiences and corporate adoption of the tech. Quite a few retailers have started integrating AR, one example being L’Oréal’s ModiFace experience, using AR tech licensed from Gravity Jack to analyze a user’s skin and suggest a customized beauty routine.”

“Beyond retail, Gravity Jack’s proprietary AR methods are licensed by several tech companies, including Samsung. Samsung utilizes our patented augmented reality tech for AR Zone, a camera enhancement with AR Emoji and Sticker capabilities, DreamGround, a live AR experience, and augmented reality virtual shopping experiences. In that same vein, T-Mobile’s Accelerator program relies on AR tech licensed from Gravity Jack to build 5G AR experiences for smart glasses, while 8thWall licenses its innovative, protected methodologies to develop its countless WebAR experiences and games.”

If these examples are any indication, companies, regardless of the industry, are finding ways to include AR services as a part of their customer experience. There is evidently significant unexplored territory, considering the fact that we are only witnessing the nascent beginnings of AR from what we can tell. 

“When we started in 2009 most people didn’t even believe that AR was possible. We were laughed out of more than one investor meeting and quite a few people called us crazy. Most of our sales process consisted of explaining what augmented reality even was before we could explain how it could be used to benefit business. Obviously, we’ve made leaps and bounds since then. The tech has become more streamlined and relevant to widely used tech features, and the introduction of LiDar sensors to the smartphone made AR accessible to the average user.”

—Luke Richey, Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Gravity Jack

In addition to the usability of AR, not only does Luke Richey believe in the future potential of AR technology, but he has great faith in its potential to create jobs as well. He firmly holds that AR has the ability to revolutionize business operations and encourage the emergence of a new set of professionals, soon to be led by experts on augmented reality, working in cross-functional teams to determine how AR can enhance the entire chain of processes that are involved in running a business. 

“One significant area where AR will drive job creation is in healthcare. Now, not just medical professionals, but anyone equipped with AR-enabled devices will have access to real-time patient data, augmented anatomy visualization, and advanced diagnostic tools. Imagine a world where parents can skip trips to the ER and sew stitches into their children’s cuts with the same precision as a doctor or nurse. AR also allows the ability for a teleconference where a doctor can oversee the stitching process if needed. Consequently, specialized roles such as AR-assisted surgeons, who utilize immersive technology for precision surgeries, and healthcare data analysts adept at interpreting AR-generated information, will become integral parts of the healthcare ecosystem.

“In the realm of manufacturing and logistics, AR-powered solutions will revolutionize processes, leading to the emergence of roles like AR-driven supply chain managers and maintenance technicians skilled in using AR for equipment diagnostics and repairs. These professionals will leverage AR interfaces to streamline operations, optimize logistics, and improve efficiency across various industrial sectors.”

Taking a Break to Tap Into the Potential of AI

Considering the emphasis placed on AR tech as a critical component of the future, the next question might be to consider how it ties into the other trend of 2024—artificial intelligence. “The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) as an innovative developer tool will undoubtedly change the game in the creation of AR experiences which will eventually develop themselves. AI-driven algorithms will be capable of generating code, optimizing user interfaces, and even dynamically adapting AR experiences based on user behavior and preferences,” says Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Gravity Jack, Luke Richey.

“However, despite AI’s untapped potential in expediting development, the need for supportive roles will remain crucial. AR experience experts and accessibility specialists will play vital roles in humanizing AI-generated experiences. These professionals will offer personalized guidance, ensuring that AI-generated AR content meets specific user needs, addresses nuanced challenges, and maintains a high standard of usability. As AI evolves, these supportive roles will adapt, overseeing AI-driven development, ensuring ethical considerations, and leveraging human insights to fine-tune AI-generated AR experiences, making sure that everything continues to be optimized towards a human-centric design. All of that to say, 2030 can’t get here soon enough.” 

And we’d have to agree, that there does seem to be quite a fascinating future in store for us as soon as we get more comfortable working with augmented reality. With all of these masterful insights into AR, you might wonder how Gravity Jack’s own projects figure into the proliferation of AR technology. The company’s upcoming AR-AI collaboration project, an immersive apocalyptic game, WarTribe of Binyamin, should have some answers for you. 

“WarTribe employs a geo-targeted questing mechanism that sends certain missions to players based on their location. On top of regular gameplay which includes real-world quests, players in areas with an unreached language will be specifically charged with translating their native languages into a trade language, while other players in the same area will be charged with verifying the translations of their counterparts. Their efforts within the game funnel data to an AI engine, training a Natural Language Processor on the world’s ‘last languages’ that currently remain untranslated by other platforms like ChatGPT and Google Translate.

“By crowd-sourcing data sets to train the AI, we circumvent a lot of the issues and expenses faced by the aforementioned platforms. Payments issued to play-to-earn players are funded with the in-game purchases (perks, weapons, etc.) of players in more affluent geo areas, creating a circular sort of ecosystem within the WarTribe economy.”

“The inspiration for this endeavor comes from an internal philosophy we’ve termed Opportunomics, and C.K. Pralahad’s theories surrounding ‘Bottom of the Wealth Pyramid.’ We want to foster new levels of global connection that include formerly marginalized groups by facilitating worldwide communication in heart languages and opportunities for financial freedom.” The future of AR appears to be in safe hands considering the innovation that is being put into place to solidify not just the importance of technology but the cultural preservation we’re seeing handled by Gravity Jack.

Extended Reality with GigXR

From Hospitals To The Military, Exploring the Limits of Extended Reality with GigXR

The groundbreaking work being done by Gravity Jack is only one example of the full potential of such technology. While we primarily look at such tech through the lens of entertainment and leisure, there are many companies hard at work, doing what they can to improve our overall quality of life. GigXR’s mixed reality technology has been simplifying holographic healthcare training at the institutes it partners with, allowing healthcare providers to get a running start at the careers they are all set to step into. With a library of holographic applications provided by the Gig Immersive Learning Platform, the service can eliminate the risks of training and the intrusive nature of learning that sometimes has to take place in the medical field, with a solution that is as novel as it sounds—holograms.

The company’s Holohuman and Holopatient allow instructors to guide students through the human anatomy and the host of conditions that affect it without having to ensure cadaver availability for every single training experience. Not only does this make learning a more repeatable experience, but also allows trainees to “assess, diagnose, and treat real-world conditions through true-to-life holographic simulations of standardized patient scenarios.” There are additional Holo Scenarios and Insight models that are further designed to break down human physiology and understand it in depth, in a way that photos and videos might not allow. It is truly a fascinating application of extended reality. 

“Clinical and educational spaces are increasingly adopting extended reality. We are at an inflection point, equipped with evidence that extended reality is effective at scale and offers certain advantages over traditional methods. Our customers, having seen these benefits, are now investing in the necessary infrastructure for extended reality. This includes hiring specialized personnel and creating optimal environments for integrating extended reality into curricula, with adoption rates increasing as a result.”

— Jared Mermey, CEO at GigXR

While the exploration into the field of traditional healthcare is fascinating enough to have us talking for hours exploring the possibilities, GigXR doesn’t limit itself to just one playing field. Understanding the full potential of mixed and extended reality, the company realized that there was room for practice and preparation even within tactical scenarios. CEO of GigXR, Jared Mermey, was quite willing to bring us up to date with some of the alternate applications of their technology. “GigXR’s collaboration with the United States Air Force in developing Tactical Casualty Combat Care (TCCC) training is done through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. We are very proud to work with the 354th Medical Group USAF in Eielsen, Alaska, focusing on TCCC, a vital certification for all Armed Forces members requiring regular recertification. TCCC is needed by all service members with the idea being: How do you complete a mission when someone you’re on that mission with may get wounded?

“Extended reality enhances realism and introduces more varied scenarios, more accurately mimicking the unpredictability of real-world combat environments compared to traditional simulation methods. Personnel can practice critical decision-making in a variety of simulated, high-stress scenarios. It also allows scalable training without the limitations of time and space, enabling personnel, including reservists, to train from any location, removing the need for centralized training sessions. This flexibility is particularly valuable for reservists who typically train less frequently and are spread across the country.” 

The application of extended reality to scenarios that are hard to recreate is probably one of the most useful abilities of the technology. Whether it’s used in training first responders or preparing individuals for emergency situations, the technology allows room to really understand the various pressing elements of such scenarios before leaping into action.

 “I believe the future of training, transcending industries, is XR and AR. The form these technologies will take is still to be determined—whether goggles, designer sunglasses, contact lenses, or even brain chips—but the concept of digital overlays on top of the real world is inevitable,” says CEO Jared Mermey. “At GigXR, we’re not fixated on predicting the final form factor; our focus is on ensuring our platform’s flexibility will deliver the content for any prevailing technology. We will scale powerful training content for doctors, nurses, and future healthcare professionals, regardless of the device they use today and well into the future.” 

We’re excited to see what extended reality has in store for us this year and new gadget releases notwithstanding, there are likely to be more creative iterations of the technology we have seen so far.