MREAL: The distinctly human magic of Mixed Reality

When it comes to Extended Reality, it’s easy to focus entirely on the tech. But when Canon engineers designed MREAL, they paid attention to people.
A man dressed in black is wearing a black Canon MREAL X1 mixed reality headset that covers his eyes. It has a neon blue stripe in the space between where his eyes should be. He crouches beneath a virtual representation of the chassis of a vehicle and points a finger to a spot just off the centre.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

Writer & Editor – Canon VIEW

Once again, the words on everyone’s lips this year are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, but more and more often the term ‘Mixed Reality’ is being used to describe technologies that combine the best of the two. Essentially, MR brings elements of virtual experiences into the real world. And the coolest part? You and others can interact with them. This is why, although it is somewhat lower key in the consumer technology world, Mixed Reality is hitting the spot for so many businesses.

The idea of Mixed Reality has been capturing imaginations for long time. After all, who hasn’t seen a science fiction movie where the characters swipe a hand to manifest a virtual dashboard or make the schematics for an enemy spaceship appear out of nowhere? Canon’s own explorations into Mixed Reality began over a quarter of a century ago, with the first prototypes heading out for live testing in manufacturing settings in 2007. The live feedback from this first iteration of Canon’s Mixed Reality System was the foundation for the MREAL technology that was enjoyed by visitors to CES 2023 in a gamified experience of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, Knock at the Cabin. They had fun barricading themselves against intruders using virtual furniture and other objects.

In classic sci-fi we would see these elements materialise out of thin air, whereas the reality today is that they are viewed through a headset. The sci-fi vision, however, is otherwise pretty accurate and the ability to bring computer generated objects into the real world is truly awesome. It’s creating exciting new ways to experience and interact with familiar information and environments: training and learning, product design and prototyping, construction, even real estate and other kinds of sales.

But that’s only half of the story. Yes, the purpose of Canon’s MREAL X1 Mixed Reality System is to bring enterprises the new efficiency that immersive promises (especially as we stare down the barrel of the metaverse). But technology magic happens in the details – through the smaller touches that make us want to keep using it.

A man dressed in white stands, slightly crouched with one hand on his right leg, on a tiled floor of white, red and grey tiles. In the background are three neon light blue pole lights. The man is wearing a black Canon MREAL X1 mixed reality headset that covers his eyes and has one hand raised to touch a piece of virtual silver machinery.

Mixed Reality lets us interact with familiar information and environments in a new way, but its magic is only as good as its user-friendliness.

Feelings of lightness

It stands to reason that the big challenge for any kind of headset is for it to be as lightweight and comfortable as possible, but this isn’t easily achieved. The view of both real and virtual elements needs to feel as natural as possible without compromising on the size of the display. You might expect Virtual Reality headsets, although bulkier, to win out on weight because they don’t need all the sensors and cameras required by Mixed Reality, but at a super-lightweight 158g Canon’s MREAL X1 head mounted display weighs less than a Big Mac, and yet maintains the incredible accuracy of both colour and scale that you would expect from Canon. And it will no doubt become smaller, lighter and more flexible as time progresses

Hands are free

The camera and sensor technology in the MREAL headset mean that you can engage with your mixed realities in a very real way – using the means by which you normally interact with the world. Unless you choose to add them, there are no controllers and nothing that needs to be held. At CES 2023, Jason Mack Williams, Canon USA’s Mixed Reality Project Advisor, demonstrated the simplicity with which he could open the door and climb inside an MR car, start the engine and even change the colour scheme to suit his tastes, just by ‘touching’ the ignition button and tapping the bonnet with his hand.

"At a super-lightweight 158g Canon’s MREAL X1 head mounted display weighs less than a Big Mac, and yet maintains the incredible accuracy of both colour and scale that you would expect from Canon."

Experience together, wherever

Our need for togetherness is what makes us human – imagine being able to work on a remote outdoor project in mixed reality at the same time as your colleagues. The fact that the MREAL X1 is lightweight means that it’s highly portable, and this opens opportunities for its collaborative use on construction sites, showrooms, even mobile medical facilities. The whole kit fits neatly in a suitcase and is simply connected to a Windows laptop running the Canon MREAL Platform base software.

Eyes close

One of the common complaints about headsets of any kind is that there is a kind of ‘disconnect’ between the viewer and what they are seeing. Immediately, this can lead to feelings of imbalance and discomfort. The engineers behind MREAL X1 were extremely conscious of this fact and overcame the issue by a means that is ingenious in its simplicity. They made the front display so slim that the camera is positioned as near as possible to the pupil of the user. This makes the objects in view appear to be closer to their actual position and makes the entire experience feel more natural. In this fascinating interview with the engineers, they reveal that they “repeatedly created prototypes to get the right fit” for every possible shape and size of head.

The project to bring MREAL to life has certainly been one where the team combined their passion for invention with a deep consideration for humanity, the perfect example of Canon’s philosophy of Kyosei – living and working together for the common good. Electrical design engineer Yuji Takayama sums this up perfectly; “For people lacking freedom of movement, Mixed Reality could help expand their world,” he says. “By making the head mounted display easier to put on and wear, we could enhance not only business communication, but also the way we communicate with various people, which would make the world more enjoyable.

Learn more about Canon’s Mixed Reality technology on our global corporate website.

Marie-Anne Leonard Writer & Editor – Canon VIEW

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