Microsoft today announced a new mixed reality (MR) platform called Mesh at its spring Ignite keynote. The platform, powered by Azure, aims to bring a more immersive experience for AR and VR applications across multiple form factors, including PC and mobile, and hints at a greater focus on MR by the firm across not just enterprise, but consumer domains as well.
At the keynote, Microsoft’s Alex Kipman appeared in 3D form in a virtual environment with attendees, showing off Mesh and talking about the various capabilities that the virtual collaboration platform will bring to users. Through the way of virtual avatars in a shared environment, or life-sized models of people wearing HoloLens devices via “holoportation”, the firm envisions bringing people closer virtually using the platform, for both work and play. Kipman added:
“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.”
A few surprising examples included a brief demo from John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, playing Pokemon GO on a HoloLens 2 with Veronica Saron, product marketing manager for Pokémon GO. The early look at the game provided a glimpse into how immersive MR experiences will be powered by Mesh and Microsoft’s cloud. And it’s not just games, as the firm touts virtual meetings benefits with the demo of the “nth floor” from Accenture, a company that is planning to leverage Mesh to create virtual work floors to bring geographically distributed teams together.
The Redmond firm says that the advancements made with Mesh come from the learning and development made with eye and hand tracking and the like through the years, helping generate realistic avatars, and eventually, "holoportation". The concept isn’t far from the company’s vision for Windows Mixed Reality as seen in its video reel from 2016. The firm likely sees the platform as the next big thing in the AR and VR space, with CEO Satya Nadella even likening it to Xbox Live.
However, the popularity of the platform and eventual adoption will rely heavily on developer support, and the firm understands that. The company says that in the coming months, it will “offer developers a full suite of AI-powered tools for avatars, session management, spatial rendering, synchronization across multiple users and holoportation to build collaborative solutions in mixed reality”. Additionally, it says that through “Microsoft Mesh’s open standards” developers will be able to build immersive experiences for a range of devices, everything from a HoloLens 2 and Oculus to tablets and smartphones.
Microsoft has currently announced two apps built on the Mesh platform; the Mesh app in preview form for HoloLens devices for users to “remotely collaborate”, and a “Mesh-enabled AltSpaceVR” version that allows for meetings in virtual reality. The company also plans to integrate Mesh with its Teams and Dynamics 365 offerings, but there is no timeline on when that is expected to happen. It will be interesting to see how the platform matures and how the adoption progresses over time.