Underexplored opportunities of Diminished Reality

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Central theme of the 2021 WEF’s Global Technology Governance Summit was Fourth Industrial Revolution and new technologies, which drive it. One of the interesting and relatively new concepts discussed during summit was the use of Diminished Reality (DR) and its beneficial applications. While most current application of DR in business context focus on commerce or business process improvements, there’s an underexplored potential in other areas. 

What is Diminished Reality

You are probably familiar with the terms such as AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality) or even MR (mixed reality). For starters, just a brief explanation of these. AR augments our reality by enhancing what we see around with additional objects or information. VR is completely virtual world, where all that we see (and sometimes feel) around is computer-generated. Definition of MR will be different, depending on who you ask, but you can think of it as being somewhere on the spectrum between AR and VR. All these technologies collectively called XR or Extended Reality, to which the youngest addition is DR – Diminished Reality.

World Economic Forum – Global Technology Governance Summit 2021

DR is different from its older sibling, as instead of enhancing or creating the world that we see through the lens of technology, DR makes us experience less of our real world. It diminishes what we see or hear with the help of technology. The easiest example of DR is noise-cancelling headphones, but with the development of this field hardware or wearables get significantly enhanced with AI-enabled software.

How businesses use Diminished Reality

It seems that the widest application area for DR nowadays is in e-commerce, which saw an unprecedented rise during lockdowns in the past two years. One of the early entrants leveraging this technology is European company Atlantis, which offers AR authoring toolfriendly to non-experts. Atlantis combine AR and DR to create solutions that could be applied in interior design and ecommerce. For example, with AR customers can use their phone to visualize how a new piece of furniture will look in a chosen place. While this is not new, AR alone does not allow for look and feel of the selected furniture in a room, which is not empty. Here’s where DR comes in handy – by removing a piece of real furniture on the screen.

Atlantis combines AR and DR

Another example is mentioned during WEF summit – noise cancelling windows developed by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. With high levels of noise in cities and increasing urbanization, this technology could prove essential for mental health and wellbeing. DR has also application in construction and landscaping industries, either on its own, or in combination with AR. 

DR has also its place in healthcare industry, especially in cosmetic surgeries and mental health. For the latter, the applications are discussed for individuals with autism, to help them reduce or control mental stimulation caused by environment. 

Future of DR technologies

In times of overstimulation and overwhelm from increased digital presence which we started experiencing during lockdown, DR could be a life saver to reduce informational noise and help us better manage our personal time. Imagine news, notifications and social updates which clutter your mental space filtered out of your sight. This sounds like a solution called for to reduce our Digital Fatigue.

Applying the principles of diminished reality we could also design a more effective parent control systems, protecting children from online bullying and other offensive and dangerous content. By combining wearable technology or screen protector with AI or Cognitive Computing we can indeed create safer and more inclusive internet for all and categorize it with age-specific and mental-health appropriate content. 

Looking farther into the future we can find even more applications of DR. While current solutions are largely focused on visual and auditory experience, there’s a huge potential to explore with other senses, such as taste, haptics or smell. For example, by modifying taste buds stimulation, some foods may be enhanced to deliver experience of consumption of favourite flavors. With this, a lot of food-related lifestyle diseases (such as obesity or diabetes) could be significantly reduced. Similarly, strong smells in some working environments typically characterized by their presence could make work-related activities easier to perform. This could be especially helpful to waste-management workers or hospital staff. Haptics could be leveraged for some psychological conditions, such as Haphephobia, which is a fear of touch.  

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Natasha Syed
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