Microsoft kicked off its virtual Ignite conference with a splash as chief executive officer Satya Nadella announced the company’s new mixed reality platform, Microsoft Mesh. Powered by Azure, Mesh allows people to interact in a virtual or augmented reality world.
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“Mesh enables you to interact holographically with others with true presence in a natural way,” Nadella said during his keynote. “I can meet my colleagues on the other side of the world collaborating as though we were in the same room. Again, with no screen mediating our interactions. It’s pretty mind-boggling to imagine, but this is the future we are building. One of my favourite lines we used to describe the possibilities when we first introduced HoloLens was when you change the way you see the world, you change the world you see. I can’t wait to see the world we create together.”
He then handed the reins to Alex Kipman, a Microsoft technical fellow in AI and mixed reality, who spent the next 45 minutes presenting from several virtual worlds. In an unusual twist, viewers could don their own headsets, join him, or get a similar (although 2D) experience viewing the keynote on the AltspaceVR website – or through the desktop app.
“Today, you and I make history as we collaborate on the largest mixed reality show ever created,” Kipman said. “Microsoft Mesh connects the physical and the digital worlds, allowing us to transcend the traditional boundaries of space and time. Microsoft Mesh is powered by Azure, and all of its AI and compute capabilities working seamlessly together from the intelligent edge to the intelligent cloud.”
Mesh, he said, lets developers create immersive experiences that lead users to connect from anywhere, feed true presence in mixed reality, and let workflows transition from familiar 2D mediums to the world of mixed reality. He said that over half of the Fortune 500 companies have purchased Hololens.
For example, Toyota uses Hololens, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, and mixed reality services to improve maintenance efficiency. Technicians wearing Hololens can view information such as wiring harness configurations on specific car models via Azure Object Anchors while working on the vehicle. This process reduces inspection times by up to 20 per cent. The company is rolling out the Hololens 2 solution to all of its dealerships in Japan.
Another customer, Accenture, is experimenting with hybrid workflows to increase accessibility, allow remote collaboration and minimize unnecessary travel with a Mesh-enabled alt space. Since Mesh will work on HoloLens 2, Windows virtual reality headsets, Oculus headsets, PCs, Macs, and even smartphones, users are free to pick the most convenient device.
Beyond the enterprise
“But what happens when you go beyond the enterprise?” Kipman asked. “Collaboration doesn’t just take place in enterprise settings. Sometimes we just call it hanging out with friends. With Microsoft Mesh, you can connect from any device on any platform, transforming the way we connect to one another. Enabling hanging out wherever your friends are.”
In his virtual arena, the audience consisted of the avatars of attendees joining through VR. Kipman and several of his guests, including Niantic CEO John Hanke (who, with Pikachu, interacted with a colleague in a Pokémon GO battle), appeared via holoportation, which uses 3D capture technology to beam a lifelike image of the individual into the virtual world.
“Whether you’re exploring a brand-new park, or just walking through a familiar neighbourhood, augmented reality can make the real world a little more magical,” Hanke observed. “In the future, we imagine a real-world filled with adventures, helpful information, and of course, a lot of friends. AR that’s grounded in the real world, aware of us, and the environment, is an incredibly powerful starting point. And it becomes even more powerful when we can share it.”
In conjunction with Mesh’s release, Microsoft is also releasing developer tools to build Mesh experiences.