Microsoft Mesh has just been revealed, and this new technology could reinvent the way we interact online. Our digital meetings, virtual catch-ups and online gaming sessions could all stand to change.
As part of its annual Ignite conference, Microsoft lifted the lid on Microsoft Mesh, a bold new vision for 'mixed reality' technology, which could create a greater sense of connection between people when they're meeting in the digital realm.
You may remember the 'augmented reality' tech in games like Pokemon Go, where you might see - through your phone screen - a Pikachu appear in your room. Building on ideas like that, Microsoft is aiming to create virtual spaces where people in different places can meet up using digital avatars.
That's the core of what Microsoft Mesh is all about, but you can keep on reading to learn much more about this exciting new technology.
What is Microsoft Mesh?
In a big blog post, Microsoft provided a lot of details about Microsoft Mesh, describing this innovation as "a new mixed-reality platform [...] that allows people in different physical locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences on many kinds of devices." The headline of the blog promises, "You can actually feel like you’re in the same place".
Adding a bit more detail, the blog post mentions that Microsoft Mesh will "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".
The idea is that Microsoft Mesh will work across "many different devices" including Microsoft's HoloLens 2 glasses, as well as VR headsets, smartphones, tablets and PCs. Microsoft Mesh will be integrated into a whole suite of apps, including Microsoft Teams, which makes it sound like holographic work meetings could soon be possible. The video below provides a handy summary of what Microsoft Mesh can do.
How will Microsoft Mesh change online meetings and social events?
Microsoft is already showing off what Microsoft Mesh can do, with Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman appearing at the Ignite conference as a 'holoportation' - a lifelike digital hologram version of himself. To think that, in the not too distant future, we too will be able to create these hologram versions of ourselves and use them for online meetings... well, it's like sci-fi and fantasy have come to life, isn't it?
It goes without saying that technology like this will create very different possibilities for how we meet and interact online. The Microsoft blog post mentions that it is already possible for companies "to hold meetings and work gatherings in virtual reality [...] using a new version of Mesh-enabled AltspaceVR". And Microsoft is also working with various partners to develop other exciting applications for this new technology.
Tantalisingly, the blog states, "Two friends living on opposite coasts could join the same concert as avatars and experience the show together, or perhaps eventually one day a holoportation of someone’s grandmother living in another country could interact with family members in real time at a reunion."
What does Microsoft mesh mean for gaming?
As the company behind the Xbox Series X, it's clear that Microsoft is still heavily invested in gaming. And there is so much potential for Microsoft Mesh to blend with the gaming world. Online games could become more immersive than ever before, for example, especially if we can bring our lifelike 'holoportation' avatars into our favourite games.
To show us one potential way in which Microsoft Mesh could benefit the gaming world, Microsoft teamed up with Niantic, the developers behind Pokemon Go. During the Ignite presentation, they shared a concept reel that combines the world of Pokemon Go with the tech of Microsoft Mesh.
This proof-of-concept video imagines a future version of Pokemon Go, where Microsoft's HoloLens glasses will work with Microsoft Mesh to put cute critters, other players and interactive menus in your field of vision. If this update did come to pass, it would surely make the game feel a lot more real.
When will Microsoft Mesh be available?
In some senses, Microsoft Mesh is actually available now. If you've already bought the expensive HoloLens 2 glasses from Microsoft, you should be able to download a preview version of the Microsoft Mesh app now for free. This early version of Microsoft Mesh allows you to create cartoon-like avatars, meet with people virtually and see 3D content together.
However, it could be a long time before Microsoft Mesh reaches its full potential. There's no date yet for the Microsoft Mesh version of Microsoft Teams, for example, and everyone was keen to stress in that Pokemon Go video that it was just a proof of concept. And you can't yet create a fully lifelike 'holoportation' of yourself.
Now that the technology behind Microsoft Mesh has been revealed, though, you can bet that developers around will be starting to work on cool implementations for these new ideas. As we hear more about Microsoft Mesh becoming available to the masses, we'll be sure to let you know.
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