Augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality are three realities that exist on the reality-virtuality continuum – and they are probably the three terms you have heard again and again. However, there is a fourth reality you probably haven’t heard of – diminished reality.
Diminished reality can be thought of as the opposite of augmented reality. Augmented reality (AR) enhances our reality by overlaying digital elements like 3D models on the physical world. Contrary to that, diminished reality (DR) diminishes parts of the physical world. It removes unwanted objects in our view.
How does diminished reality enhance augmented reality?
Although DR doesn’t lie on the virtuality continuum, it can be used in combination with AR for a greater visual impact.
Let’s take the example of interior design. AR lends itself well to interior design because it allows us to try different pieces of furniture in our homes. Thanks to AR, we can see exactly how a new chair would fit and complement our existing space.
However, often the space we are trying to redesign is already crowded with old furniture. Placing the new chair in AR on top of the old chair doesn’t serve much value. You can’t appreciate it. If you first use DR to hide the old chair from view, then use AR to place the chair in the seemingly empty space, the visual experience is much improved and valuable for the end user.
This combination of augmented and diminished reality is referred to as mediated reality. The term mediated reality is attributed to MIT researcher Steven Mann in 1994. Mediated reality alters our perception of reality by adding and removing information through a device such as a headset or smartphone in real time.
Mediated reality swells AR market projections
According to Digi-Capital, the AR market is projected to reach $83 billion by 2021. The additional applications of AR paired with DR could increase this projection. Visual experiences that couldn’t be achieved with AR alone can now be realized.
For instance, a builder would like to visualize his new office tower plans on the building site. However, an existing dilapidated building occupies the lot. With a choice of AR versus VR, he would likely choose VR. With AR alone, he would overlay his building model on the lot, but the crumbling building would still be in view. The full visual impact would be lost. With VR, he can create a virtual replication of final project without the existing structure obstructing the visual.
Pairing DR and AR, the builder realizes the advantages of VR without the need to entirely recreate the real-world environment virtually.
With mediated reality, the builder can clear the lot and overlay his building in the real world in real time. For the builder who is trying to solicit stakeholder buy-in, AR is advantageous because it is an inclusive and collaborative experience.
DR opens up new opportunities for AR. It shifts dollars that may have been invested in alternative technologies such as VR to AR.
How is diminished reality achieved?
In-painting is the technique used today to create a DR experience.
In-painting refers to the process of reconstructing parts of images or videos by matching the texture and structure of the original. It isn’t a new technique. For instance, in the world or art restoration, in-painting is used to reinstate the damaged areas of a painting.
One of the difficulties today of achieving DR is real-time video in-painting. Real-time DR isn’t readily available like AR or VR experiences. However, engineers and organizations around the world are developing the technology to make it accessible to users in tandem with AR.