Microsoft melds the real and virtual with new Mesh platform
Zoom calls and video meetings have exploded over the past year (thanks, COVID), but a flat screen doesn’t do a great job of transmitting a person’s presence. To make remote meetups a bit more personal, Microsoft has unveiled Mesh, a “mixed reality” platform that lets people work and play together as virtual avatars overlaid on real-world spaces.
Microsoft made the announcement at its Ignite digital conference, with speakers virtually dropping in via “holoportation” – a buzzword of the company’s own invention that means a person is basically livestreamed as a 3D hologram into another user’s headset.
Mesh seems like the endpoint of years of Microsoft’s dabbling in augmented reality (AR), which began with the HoloLens. Powered by the company’s cloud service Azure, Mesh is designed to let multiple people jump into shared “holographic” scenes together, on a range of devices and from basically anywhere. For now it mostly seems tuned for HoloLens 2, but it can also work with more traditional VR headsets as well.
Users can see each other moving around the space, as either realistic representations of their bodies, or more cartoonish avatars that can be customized. Files and objects, like 2D documents or 3D models, can be brought in from other applications and worked on collaboratively.
In a series of video presentations, Microsoft showed Mesh in action in a few settings. A group of engineers examine a hologram of a prototype engine, in one example, while in another architects walk through a holographic blueprint of a proposed building.
It’s not all work-focused though – social media apps could let people hang out and chat with a bit more presence than Zoom allows. Game developer Niantic even showed off a demo of a new version of Pokémon Go, where multiple players walk around a park to catch critters that finally leap off the phone screen and appear in the “real” world.
As exciting as the overall promise is, it’s still early days for Mesh, and it’s now up to developers to actually build experiences and apps for the platform. But the idea itself is an interesting one and a logical endpoint for AR, so it’s good to see a company as major as Microsoft making larger strides in that direction. For now, it’s best to keep your expectations in check while you keep an eye on how Mesh develops.
Check out Microsoft Mesh in action in the buzzword-laden video below.