Today at Microsoft’s annual Ignite conference, the tech giant revealed a bold glimpse at the future of digital collaboration with Mesh, a new mixed reality experience set to shape how people work and socialize online.
Powered by Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and designed to run on a range of devices, including Microsoft’s Hololens headsets, traditional VR goggles, phones, and more, Mesh is Microsoft’s vision of an evolution in current online work tools, which for most people generally consist of a bunch of shared documents, email, a messaging app (Teams, Slack, etc.), and a seemingly non-stop lineup of video meetings.
With Mesh, Microsoft is hoping to create a virtual environment capable of sharing data, 3D models, avatars, and more—basically, the company wants to upgrade the traditional remote-working experience with the power of AR and VR. In the future, Microsoft is planning for something it’s calling “holoportation,” which will allow Mesh devices to create photorealistic digital avatars of your body that can appear in virtual spaces anywhere in the world—assuming you’ve been invited, of course.
By taking advantage of things like eye-tracking, facial-monitoring, and more, Microsoft says it’s hoping to add an extra level of immersion and realness to virtual collaboration, with holoportation even mimicking your expressions and eye contact. Meanwhile, by using outward-facing cameras and object tracking, Mesh will allow people to share and interact with virtual objects across various mixed-reality environments in a more natural way.
Microsoft says the end goal is that Mesh “will also enable geographically distributed teams to have more collaborative meetings, conduct virtual design sessions, assist others, learn together and host virtual social meetups. People will initially be able to express themselves as avatars in these shared virtual experiences and over time use holoportation to project themselves as their most lifelike, photorealistic selves.”
During its presentation, Microsoft demonstrated Mesh’s ability to project a 3D model of a car in real space, allowing engineers to view a life-size AR rendering in a shared virtual space. And while Microsoft didn’t announce any concrete timelines for integrating Mesh with Microsoft Teams or its Dynamic 365 productivity suite, Microsoft is already planning to add support for Mesh-enabled apps in future versions of its enterprise collaboration software.
But remote work isn’t the only application Microsoft has in mind for Mesh, and at Ignite, Microsoft partnered with Niantic and OceanX to present demos for how gaming and educational experiences might look in Mesh, right to down cute AR Pokemon roaming the world.
For Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman—who is one of the leads behind Mesh and helped demo Mesh today at Ignite—the potential power and adaptability of Mesh has always been some of its most tantalizing aspects.
“This has been the dream for mixed reality, the idea from the very beginning, 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,” Kipman said.
That said, much of Mesh’s potential lies in how Microsoft can take these concepts and turn them into reality, and even with a number of convincing demos shown today, it’ll probably be some time until they become a core part of our daily lives.
Currently, Mesh is available in preview form on Microsoft’s expensive Hololens headsets, which will allow users to collaborate remotely, and as part of a new version of AltspaceVR with support for hosting virtual meetings and gatherings.
But even as a loose framework for what’s to come, Microsoft’s Mesh is certainly a bold dream for upgrading our remote working capabilities. A number of companies, including Facebook, Apple, and others, are thinking along similar lines, so it looks like the push to create grand and rich shared virtual spaces may end up being one of the next great tech races.