What Are Hybrid XR Platforms & 5 Ways They Can be Used Today
Every day we wonder what the future will bring. When it comes to technology, some trends and developments are more evident than the others as we could witness clear milestones that shaped them over time. Today, we would like to talk about one of such developments, the hybrid platforms that had their stage set in majority by the global pandemic, 5G roll-out, global tech giants’ investment and Extended Reality (XR) technology advancement.
When we talk about hybrid platforms we are referring to the concept that connects physical and remote presence in one digitally enhanced virtual or real-life environment. It implies collaboration between users that are present on location and the ones interacting remotely with both parties feeling physically present.
Today, we know a number of, primarily Virtual Reality (VR) platforms, that enable users to collaborate in a virtual space, like Spatial, Engage, Glue, partially AltspaceVR to name a few. They all carry functionality that enable users to collaborate and engage in a common space regardless of their physical location. We have also seen a Mixed Reality (MR) implementation enabled by Microsoft HoloLens 2 in a project that connected three surgeons from different physical locations in a common mixed reality space to discuss a surgical procedure and ways to approach it. We’ve also seen enterprises like Xerox and Vuzix utilizing Augmented Reality (AR) in remote assistance and collaboration.
Even though so far we have only had the opportunity to engage in either of the XR technology environments enabled by AR, VR or MR. When it comes to a hybrid platform, the expectation for it to have capabilities to connect all three of the XR technologies in a joined digitally enhanced environment. As promising as it sounds, the hybrid platforms are yet to reach their tip point of development. Nevertheless, we expect rapid growth in both investment into technological development as well as adaptation by industries, which will help bring technology to the next level. The next generation hybrid platform will enable immersive presence and photorealistic holoportation into a shared experience. Where holoportation refers to the new type of hyper realistic 3D capture technology that allows reconstructing, compressing and transmitting real-time models of people regardless of their physical location.
One of the biggest challenges for the next level hybrid platform creation will be overcoming the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) barrier. As the hybrid XR collaboration spaces will have to combine well with the real-world environments, elements of VR spatial design will play a significant role in how comfortable both online and offline users will feel within the same collaborative space, from ergonomics and affordance to intuitiveness and onboarding. With that being said, XR is the technology that will play the key role in making it possible to blur the boundaries between being physically and remotely present.
Creation of the hybrid system will bring great opportunities however can come with a number of challenges. On one hand it will allow users to connect regardless of their physical location, on the other hand it could lead to some offline users feeling physically isolated and artificially forced into a virtual environment. This is another reason for XR technology to advance into a hybrid system that unites elements of AR, VR and MR in order to provide its users with a true feeling of presence regardless of their locations and preferred interaction device. In this context we are referring to the hybrid platform capabilities that will enable real-life interactions with virtual objects and elements as well as other users without having to submerge into a completely virtual environment.
With tech giants’ active investment into the creation of their own versions of XR hybrid platforms, we already have some examples of how these platforms will take shape. Starting from Horizon, a social VR platform that enables users to explore, interact and collaborate in virtual worlds by Meta to the much anticipated Windows powered Microsoft hybrid work that is expected to preview on April 5th 2022. As we are witnessing more immersive collaboration platforms appearing, industries will start adapting them to their needs. At the same time individual users will gradually begin seeking spaces that can provide them with more specific features and tools for interaction.
As with any technological advancements, some industries are more ready than the others to start the adaptations. With the concept of hybrid XR platforms now being more or less clear, we decided to also look at five directions where they have great potential to emerge and expedite their adaptation in the nearest future.
Hybrid Platforms in Healthcare and Medtech
We have already seen the healthcare industry exploring opportunities that immersive technology can bring into this domain, integrating XR into a vast scope of directions from anesthesiology and surgery to intervention and disease awareness. The foreseeable future without doubt will have more XR enhanced cases surging. Going forward, using XR based hybrid platforms in healthcare and MedTech could accelerate the industry development as a whole as well as help solve critical issues like medical error prevention, high cost of care, shortage of specialists on location and patient accessibility. Additionally, there is great potential in adapting hybrid XR platforms for medical specialist collaborations including training, reskilling and upskilling.
Going forward, hybrid XR platforms can be used to reshape the healthcare industry as a whole, uniting diagnostic, treatment, intervention and post-care into a unified hybrid ecosystem accessible for specialists and patients around the globe regardless of their physical locations. Such advancement in the long run can help improve accessibility and better patient outcomes for millions worldwide.
Hybrid Platforms in Remote Work and Collaboration
We continue to move towards remote work and collaboration, with both Gartner and Deloitte predicting a bigger fraction of workers becoming remote in the upcoming years, with offices becoming more of a concept than an actual physical location. As exciting as this may sound, let’s not forget about the potential concerns that may arise with remote work, starting from employees struggling with unplugging after work, loneliness to collaboration challenges and isolation. The good news is that XR has the potential to solve these issues, helping dissolve the boundaries of the sense of presence.
As the technology behind hybrid platforms advances, we will be able to step closer to tools that allow for equal presence be it physical or remote. Thus, more companies could give their employees the opportunity to select whether they wish to work on location or from home offices without having to undergo a number of disadvantages on working remotely or feeling physiologically limited. This could have a positive impact on the distributed workforce as XR will continue enhancing and making remote work more effective, economically reasonable, comfortable and safe for both the employer and the employee.
Hybrid Platforms in Pharma
Pharma is one of the directions where hybrid platforms and XR implementation could be greatly beneficial especially in terms of educating both specialists and patients. In Pharma, like no other industry, the process of guidance plays a critical role and mistakes can have quite severe consequences. As many activities continue to be remote, not being able to communicate face to face can have a significant toll on both businesses, specialist and patients. In this highly regulated field, hybrid XR platforms can serve to connect users with the help of XR technology, providing specialists and patients with new opportunities of immersive communication, education and guided assistance.
Hybrid XR platforms can assist in many cases where guided, applicable to all age, instructions are a must. Utilizing XR can assist users with mastering the use of pharmaceutical products, helping avoid mistakes and teaching the process to be simple and reliable. Going forward, there is a high potential in further expanding the use of hybrid platforms and XR for collaborations in more complex pharma areas, allowing to not only connect businesses and their consumers when it comes to remote education or understanding of product to ensure safety, but in contribution to new product development, supply chain and distribution enhancement.
Hybrid Platforms in Education
Like never before, today, we are in great need of flexibility. It is especially important in terms of education and knowledge acquisition, with our reality being far from ideal for many that need or wish to pursue any level of education. The whole composition of study institutions has been reshaped by the ongoing pandemic, forcing millions to adapt and find new ways for individuals and institutions to continue with the education process. Taking that into consideration, hybrid XR platforms for education will require to be interactive, scalable and customizable for any institution. Users will require to have an opportunity to continue the learning process in an intuitive and easily accessible manner, switching between various devices be it a VR, AR or MR headset, PC, mobile phone or tablet.
As such platforms will require to be accessible for users of different age groups and technological literacy, they ought to be built based on three core principles - seamless and immersive user experience, data security and privacy as well as final product quality and attention to details. The hybrid XR platform should allow participants to engage in a unified space where professor or teacher would be able to present, demonstrate interactive materials and objects as well interact with the audience as if all participants are physically present in one location. XR enhanced hybrid platforms will gradually become an excellent analogue to traditional education methods as they will be able to erase the boundaries for all involved users helping them come together without the need to physically relocate.
Hybrid Platforms in Enterprise
When it comes to innovation, large scale companies have a significant advantage due to their maturity and difference in investment opportunities. On the other hand, bureaucracy can be a game stopper for many rapidly developing technology implementations. In order to move hand in hand with the global developments and opportunities arising from hybrid XR platforms enterprise level businesses ought to take a step back and look at technological advancement from the infrastructure integration perspective. The XR component of hybrid platforms can reshape the speed and quality of communication, decision making process, optimize operational costs as well as enable a sense of physical presence for numerous employees still working remotely.
The creation of hybrid platforms that engage users on enterprise scales ought to account for user technological literacy and scalability of the solution. In this context hybrid XR platforms can serve as excellent tools to work across various devices from XR headsets to mobile and desktop browsers, allowing for the much-needed flexibility.
"We are just one step away from hybrid XR platforms becoming a part of our everyday lives. Even though the expectations for them are quite high, we are already at the stage of technological development, when they can become a part of our present rather than just a vague foreseeable future".
The coming of hybrid platforms is bound to reshape the way we work, interact, collaborate and go about our everyday lives. By allowing technology to erase the boundaries of physical presence we will be able to rediscover and grasp the much-needed sense of presence, helping once more connect people regardless of their geographical location.
But, how exactly can XR be put to best use?
Depending on the organizations or institutions that need XR experience, it can serve to enchase training, collaboration, interaction, learning, communication, and other activities through immersive interaction that can be accessed without being physically present. XR can also be a tool to help reduce costs, optimize learning and training time, connect physical and digital presence, and evaluate, track and monitor the success of in-XR-performed activities.
How are learner activities in XR fostering critical STEM skills, including inquiry, empathy, collaboration, and communication?
XR allows users to submerge into any created scenario, where they can practice and hone skills, including inquiry, empathy, collaboration, and communication in a controlled and safe environment. XR helps foster skills in a fully controlled environment, with different difficulty levels and opportunities to face challenging situations as if they were in a real-life setting. The possibility to replay or retract the taken steps or made mistakes allows users to observe their performance firsthand and receive necessary feedback to improve the learning process results.
How can learning and performance be accurately assessed in XR environments?
Like with any assessment system, it is necessary to set particular KPIs to accurately assess the performance in the XR environment. The significant advantage of XR is the possibility to track additional metrics, like eye-tracking, which allows following the person's gaze and presence, as well as head-, hand-, facial- and body-tracking, which gives comprehensive information helpful to assess the emotional and physical responses.
Article Last Edited 22 November 2022.