Microsoft's New Platform Takes Video Conferencing Into VR Mode
Microsoft is on its way to make VR and AR a reality for enterprises and consumers, where simple conference video zoom calls are no longer sufficient for their appetite.
At the annual Microsoft conference, the company unveiled a new platform called Microsoft Mesh that is designed to simulate virtual environments where users can interact with each other with compatible VR and AR headsets as if they are in the same location or room.
Microsoft show cased a demo experience using that Microsoft calls "holoportation" of a realistic avatar to interact with various components of the application.
This enables someone to be present with people even in when you are not physically together, and sharing content and information via different mixed reality devices.
The concept behind Microsoft Mesh is to enable companies to produce virtual environments where people like engineers can meet virtually to collaborate on 3D engineering projects. The software is advanced enough to enable participants to pass virtual 3D objects to each other, as if they truly exist in reality.
End-users such as architects and building designers can use the platform to produce and walk through holographic version of the building blueprints to get a immersive feel of how it would appear when finished. Medical students is able to practice their skills through virtual hands-on simulations to get better understanding of their practices.
The tech giant has been working on augmented reality for the past few years. The hololens was the first generation device designed to enable users to interact with virtual holographic objects.
“This has been the dream for mixed reality, the idea from the very beginning,” Alex Kipman, a Microsoft technical fellow working on the project, explained at the demonstration. “You can actually feel like you’re in the same place with someone sharing content. Or you can teleport from different mixed reality devices and be present with people even when you’re not physically together.”
Microsoft acquired AltspaceVR social network back in 2017. The Mesh will present people as virtual avatars taken from Altspace, but will eventually support teleporting people to appear as themselves in VR.
However, the latest Hololens is not your average consumer mixed reality device. It is designed for large corporations and university with funding to take this technology to their organizations. Of course, if you have $3,500 of spare cash sitting around, this might be a different case.
Aside from Microsoft Mesh, the company is also working on a consumer version platform. The company has partnered with Niantic, developer of the "Pokemon Go" to show off how gamers can utilize Mesh to play games with multiple people at once in the virtual world. Microsoft also recruited James Cameron and co-founder of Cirque du Solei to demonstrate Mesh during Ignite keynote.
Microsoft is not the only company with ambition to dominate the VR meeting space. Facebook owned Oculus has it's own platform Spatial that allows users to interact with other users via avatars.
Apple is also reportedly working on their own AR/VR headset, but the price may be way above an average consumer headset.
These technologies are all at its early stage of development, and like all technologies, this development will steadily progress. However, the introduction of such platforms will enhance video chat services to help solve the problems associated with 2D video chats. This breakthrough is especially promising during a pandemic as we are experiencing now, when it is difficult to work with 3D physical models without all being in the same meeting room for face-to-face discussion.
Microsoft has moved away from its focus on Windows, and is now focusing their strategy around its Azure cloud computing service, which directly competes with AWS and Google cloud. The Mesh solution will work with different types VR hardware and software that is powered by Azure.
The company believes Mesh will be the next big trend for mixed reality industry. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, compared the new platform to Xbox during his keynote speech at Ignite.
"Think about what Xbox Live did for gaming, we went from single player to multiplayer, creating communities that helped people connect and achieve together, now just imagine if the same thing happened with mixed reality".