‘Mixed Reality’ Headsets—Almost a Whoa!

 “Mixed reality” AKA “spatial computing” headsets combine the real world with digital content. Using passthrough video that blocks out all light, users rely on headset cameras to take in the external world via real-time video playing on tiny screens. They physically interact with their environments and perform daily activities with added digital content displayed. The tech industry hopes that users will wear the headsets from dawn to dusk—or midnight, for a different brand of social interaction.

Stanford researchers recently conducted field tests alongside longitudinal analyses of their personal journeys and interpersonal interactions and published their study in Technology, Mind, and Behavior. There were moments of awe and unsettlement, caution recommended for prolonged headset use, and a call for a longer-term assessment.

Pros and Cons

Researchers engaged in various activities, including conversations, walking outdoors, playing games, and eating and cooking food. For safety reasons, a chaperone not wearing a headset was always present. They found it enjoyable; some said it was “mind-blowing,” and the color, visuals, and making things disappear were mentioned, as well as the fact that our eyes and brain typically can’t tell the difference.

The longer they were immersed in passthrough video, the more imperfections became apparent that impacted how they felt, and that would pose problems for frequent headset wearing. For example, peripheral vision is lost, so they take in half of what humans typically see, and the system is no match for the sharpness of natural vision. Distortion and a just-noticeable lag in the display change occur when users move their heads to a new view. These issues caused underestimating distances to objects—a potential concern in several real-life scenarios. People also experienced simulator sickness, a motion sickness long-documented in virtual reality and first-person gaming.

Given their experiences, the Stanford researchers recommend that mixed reality headset users proceed cautiously as they adjust rather than dive into day-long binges.

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