Last month, Microsoft revealed that the keynote for its annual Ignite conference would be a little differently this year, but the company did not warn of the different nature.
The event, held over the AltspaceVR virtual reality platform, provided a glimpse of Microsoft’s vision for the future of communication that was as nightmarish as it was convincing. The event showed all that is awful about Extended Reality (XR), from technical mishaps to gimmicky set pieces. But it was also a reminder, as video conferencing exhaustion hits new heights, that we’re only at the beginning of the remote collaboration revolution.
If Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is to be believed, the “interweaving of digital bits and physical atoms” would make communication from afar a completely different proposition in the years to come.
Keynote’s headline announcement was the arrival of a new mixed reality platform called Microsoft Mesh, which Nadella claims would make remote contact feel more intimate and less uncanny.
He explained, “Mesh enables you to interact holographically with others with true presence, in a natural way.”
“I could join a birthday celebration with my extended family in India, interacting as if we were physically together, without any screens between us. Or I could meet my colleagues on the other side of the world and collaborate as though we were in the same room.”
Powered by Azure’s computing and AI capabilities, Mesh is also designed to enable designers and engineers who handle 3D models to work together across continents in a way that has never been possible before.
“Microsoft Mesh connects the physical and digital worlds, allowing us to transcend the traditional boundaries of space and time,” said a holographic version of Alex Kipman, Technical Fellow at Microsoft.
“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 when you’re not physically together.”
Initially, Mesh users will only be able to appear as avatars, but Microsoft has announced that “holoportation” will eventually enable people to interact on their own as photo-realistic forms.
The announcement could send a shiver down the spine of someone wishing for a return to the office of the old, but for some, it’s a glimpse into the future of science fiction.
Microsoft has demonstrated the power of Mesh, by giving a demo of how a game like Pokémon Go will look on the HoloLens 2 AR headset with the help of this technology.