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Cornwall Museums Partnership

What is XR and How Does it Relate to Immersive Technology?

Welcome to our new blog series by Digital Marketing Intern, Magali Guastalegnanne, explaining key concepts related to the Museums Immersive Network. Our first instalment explores the definition of XR and how it relates to immersive technology. Keep reading to find out…

The Museums Immersive Network was created to build bridges between tech businesses, museums and heritage organisations, to encourage the use of immersive technology to create new ways of interacting with history. But what is immersive technology and how does it relate to XR?

First of all, immersive technology and XR are really two terms that mean the same thing. XR is an acronym for extended reality and is used as a technical term, while immersive technology is more generally used outside the tech sector (perhaps because it sounds a little more self-explanatory). You might also hear terms like X/mixed/mediated/cross reality, but once again these all mean the same thing. It’s a little confusing we admit, but you need to remember that this technology is a very new development, and in many ways the sector is still defining itself.

Now that’s out of the way let’s start with a basic definition to work from:

Graphic saying “an environment or experience that combines virtual and physical realities through the use of computer technology or wearable technologies”

This gives us a good starting place, but it probably still feels like a lot to unpack. Don’t worry, it’s simpler than you think. Reality is the world around us in the way we usually see it; extended reality is when you use digital technology to change how you see the world around you. Let’s take an example, here’s a quick clip of how an art gallery used an app to make it seem like their pictures were moving.

Impressed? As with many things, XR is best explained by letting people see, or even better try, the experience for themselves. As you saw, in reality the pictures are normal still drawings, however once seen through the app on people’s phones they began moving. This technology is called augmented reality which is a widely used form of XR. Remember the lawyer who turned up to a Zoom meeting looking like a cat? That’s XR! If you love to face swap, wear dog ears or turn into an alien on your Instagram or Snapchat stories then you’re already an XR pro! If not, why not give our Coastal Timetripping face filter a go? Now you see what the dictionary definition meant by a ‘mediated reality’, where virtual and physical realities are combined.

XR also covers other types of technology such as VR, which stands for virtual reality. Have you ever heard of a VR headset? No? Well here’s a photo.

A young woman with dark curly hair smiles and wears a large black virtual reality headset over her eyes.

Through this headset you see a completely virtual world. Not so different from stepping inside a computer, or at least it often feels like it! Ever seen Tron? Like that but less dangerous (we promise). Once again, we’ll be releasing a blog with more information on it soon. This is usually the first type of XR that people think of when you start talking about it.

But you don’t need super fancy tech for XR, there are plenty of desktop experiences that you can try out (though you may need to download some software first). This type of experience is often called WebXR. Seeing is believing, so go ahead and try this one here. As you should experience, it creates a virtual interactive space for the viewer to explore, and this one of the key aspects of XR. So, now that we’ve done a whistle stop tour of some of the types of experiences that come under XR, let’s review.

A close up image of a tablet device, which a young woman hovers over a 3D map whilst tapping the screen. Part of the Looe Coastal Timetripping Augmented Reality game.

XR is when digital technology (phones, computers etc.) is used to alter, replace, extend or enhance our reality, whether this is being displayed before the onlooker or layered over the outside world. It’s often called immersive technology because, as you’ve experienced for yourself, the point of the technology is to immerse the user in a world beyond our usual one. The technology has been growing in popularity, especially since Covid-19, and you might be surprised after a quick search to see what experiences you can try in your area. If you’re from Cornwall, then of course look no further than CMP’s wAVE project.


– Magali Guastalegmanne, wAVE Digital Marketing Intern

You can discover more about the Museums Immersive Network on their Twitter page; or find an immersive experience to try in Cornwall on the Coastal Timetripping website.

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