Ask five people what they think the most futuristic technologies in existence are, and you’ll probably get something related to virtual (VR), augmented (AR), or extended (XR) reality. After flying cars and space tourism, a technologically-altered reality is probably one of the biggest things we have to look forward to in the 2020s and 2030s.

However, like the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles, XR has experienced a stall over the past few years due to the limitations we’re currently facing with 4G. Although 5G will solve many of those problems, it might require 6G to finally allow the technology to establish a mainstream presence in the world.

Still, XR and its close relatives already exist in some form. They’re not going away. Read on to learn how we expect them to evolve in the coming decades, and the role 6G will play in their maturation.

What Is Extended (XR) Reality?

Extended reality (XR) is the umbrella term for the collection of immersive technologies that include things like virtual and augmented reality. Typically, XR technologies leverage mobile computing by powerful machines and to create experiences we access through wearables like goggles or glasses. However, in the future, XR technologies may also include capsules or rooms we can walk into to experience XR.

Virtual and augmented realities are two types of XR, but a few others exist. To recap:

  • Augmented reality is the process of enhancing real-world objects with computer-generated features or sensations. Face filters on Instagram are one example.
  • Virtual reality is a full-sensory simulation of the real world. It typically uses headsets, gloves, or other props to let a user feel like he or she is immersed in the simulated world.
  • Mixed reality is the combination of virtual and augmented reality, where physical and digital objects coexist. A hologram of a person in a meeting room is mixed reality.
  • Immersive reality is a term we sometimes hear referring to VR or MR. It simply refers to the creation of a seamless XR reality to the point where users cannot tell the difference.

XR Capabilities Now and In the Future

Extended reality is already quite popular and widely used, even if we don’t realize it. Many applications show up in entertainment, such as Instagram filters or as the phenomenon of Pok√©mon GO. Still, others are finding many applications across a variety of industries, including:

  • Retail
  • Marketing
  • Real estate
  • Healthcare
  • Military
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Virtual events

The prevalence of this technology means it will likely remain a part of our lives. However, it’s also currently limited by our wireless technology. In particular, extended reality suffers from:

  • High cost of implementation: Most forms of XR require infrastructure that doesn’t always exist.
  • High resource consumption: To create a seamless virtual experience, a computer needs access to an enormous level of data and computing resources.
  • Cyber vulnerabilities: Research is increasingly revealing that XR is particularly susceptible to data hacks.

To create a truly sustainable and practical set of extended reality technologies, these shortcomings must be addressed. Fortunately, 6G offers a way. Let’s explore.

Cyber-Physical Fusion: Will Cyborgs Finally Exist?

Among the many topics swirling within the discussion of 6G is how the nature of technology itself will change is the neat-sounding concept of “cyber-physical fusion.”

The term first appeared in NTT Docomo’s whitepaper and referred to the transmission and processing of data between cyberspace and physical space with zero latency. To break that down further, it’s the transmission of thoughts and actions in real-time by using wearable devices.

That might seem a bit far-fetched, but similar technology actually already exists. The Thought Translation Device, or brain-computer interface, is a technology that allows severely paralyzed patients to manipulate information on a screen. Although still in a research state, it suggests that a “cyber-physical fusion” is utterly possible. Some researchers believe that 6G may empower scientists to finally harness brain-computer interfaces.

Of course, NTT Docomo’s whitepaper fully intended to take it several steps further, hinting at a blending of physical (perhaps biological) and cyberspaces. XR may be the key to this, but it’s far too early to tell if 6G will really be capable of biodevices and XR straight out of science fiction.

Other Possibilities for XR in 6G

5G will give extended reality a significant boost, but it probably won’t be until 6G that we see anything truly remarkable. However, of particular interest is the role of intelligent networks that host extended reality resources. When combined, these technologies may give rise to very powerful applications of XR. Some of these might include:

  • Multisensory experiences: Research suggests that the unparalleled access to data and the ability to draw inferences from it with zero latency will finally bring us truly immersive XR experiences. Some global brands are eyeing it for entertainment, and others for education.
  • Telemedicine: The practice of patient care remotely is known as telemedicine, and 6G may make it easier to do in XR. Patients without physical access to a doctor will be able to not only access healthcare resources, but XR will make patient screening easier.
  • Implants: Implanted devices that allow users to communicate seemingly telepathically have featured in science fiction for quite some time, but 6G may make them a reality. This will mean access to networks anywhere, at any time, as necessary or desired.

Extending Ideas About Reality With 6G

Extended reality (XR) has massive amounts of untapped potential thanks to current limitations with wireless technology. That’s a big part of why proponents are so excited about 5G and beyond. Although many people believe that it will be 5G that finally makes XR sustainable, we suspect that it will require 6G to harness its capabilities thoroughly.

Nonetheless, extended reality will continue to advance in power and sophistication as new technologies emerge. Many newly published papers theorizing about the nature and features of 6G mention it, suggesting that it will play a central role in our world in the 2030s and beyond.

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