The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for virtual and remote collaboration, and Microsoft has a solution that may serve as the catalyst for more such apps for augmented and virtual reality in the near future.
During the keynote for the company's virtual Ignite event on Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and technical fellow Alex Kipman unveiled Microsoft Mesh, a mixed reality platform that leverages the Azure cloud platform to facilitate shared collaborative experiences between remote participants via HoloLens 2 and other devices.
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When it actually arrives in the coming months, Mesh will provide developers with tools for building avatars, session management, spatial rendering, synchronization of participants, and live volumetric video (or holoportation) for collaborative apps.
Among the first experiences from Mesh is a preview app for HoloLens and a new version of AltspaceVR for virtual meetings. Developers interested in getting involved early can sign up via the Mesh webpage for updates.
"This has been the dream for mixed reality, the idea from the very beginning," said Kipman in a statement. "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."
In addition, Microsoft gave its audience a preview of future proof of concepts that push the boundaries of gaming and media. This included an appearance from Niantic CEO John Hanke to announce a partnership between the two companies and share a proof of concept of Pokemon GO for HoloLens.
In one example, Hanke interacted with a wrist-anchored virtual display to release Pikachu into the physical environment, greet the character, and feed him a berry. Hanke's segment ended with a tease of how players can battle each other with virtual pocket monsters via HoloLens.
"For our part, we're committed to leveraging and expanding our platform to build real-world AR experiences for as many devices as possible and reaching a diverse set of players no matter their physical location. This includes building with others that share a common vision for how technology can facilitate deeper social connection and spark a sense of adventure in the real world," said Hanke in a blog post.
Other guests included filmmaker James Cameron and Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté, with the latter previewing a social AR platform called Hanai World, developed through his startup, Lune Rouge, that imagines a mix of live and digital experiences for events using Microsoft Mesh.
While apps like Spatial cover similar ground, Mesh acts like a ARKit/ARCore for virtual collaboration apps, meaning that the platform has the potential to usher in a new era of AR apps.