Augmented reality (AR), the process of overlaying digital content on top of the real world, is seeing a range of players enter the market. AR is different from Virtual Reality (VR), in which everything visual is virtually generated. To establish new technologies such as VR and AR in a consumer market, early use is being seen in specific fields like education and training. On the consumer level, they often find their way into the living room through videogames.

The most advanced commercially available mixed reality headset now on the market is Microsoft’s HoloLens 2. The HoloLens 2 smartglasses can connect to remote experts, holographically overlay patient data, and consult MRI images in 3D. They combine existing features—such as high-resolution images, better performance, and eye-tracking—to deliver an interesting full package. In conjunction with Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, Microsoft has developed a HoloLens app, HoloAnatomy, that allows medical students to see every aspect of the human body, from muscles to veins, in 3D on a dynamic holographic model. Microsoft is not alone in this space. Facebook has the wireless Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, just one of multiple types that Oculus is producing. As more technology and applications become available, exciting new opportunities await healthcare professionals. Accuvein uses projection-based AR in its handheld device that illuminates peripheral veins on the skin’s surface with the goal of improving venipuncture.

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Amazon and Intel are getting into this space, as is a Chinese company called Nreal, which is developing mixed reality technology in the 5G era. A mixed reality viewer from Brainlab, whose software and hardware create and enhance data, aims to improve critical surgeries and make the operating room more efficient. Down the road, AR healthcare apps could help surgeons become more efficient at surgeries, whether they’re conducting a minimally invasive procedure or locating a tumor on the brain.

“The worldwide AR and VR market will experience continued growth, thanks to a slowly warming reception and an increase in the number of new devices arriving to market,” says Ramon Llamas, research director, IDC’s Augmented and Virtual Reality team.