Microsoft Mesh: Futuristic Vision of Remote Collaboration

Microsoft recently announced its new mixed-reality platform called Microsoft Mesh powered by Azure that allows people in different physical locations to join and collaborate on projects from anywhere and using any device including HoloLens, PC, tablets, and smartphones.  “This has been the dream for mixed reality, the idea from the very beginning,” said Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman at Microsoft’s Ignite digital conference. “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.”

Initially, Mesh will present people as virtual avatars taken from the AltspaceVR social network that Microsoft acquired back in 2017. Mesh will eventually support what Microsoft calls “holoportation,” allowing people to appear as themselves in a virtual space.

Microsoft Mesh will also enable geographically distributed teams to have more collaborative meetings, 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 company said. “More and more we are building value in our intelligent cloud, which is Azure,” Kipman said. “In these collaborative experiences, the content is not inside my device or inside my application. The holographic content is in the cloud, and I just need the special lenses that allow me to see it.”

Mesh isn’t just an app for holding virtual meetings, though; it’s an entire platform built on top of Azure that Microsoft hopes developers will tap into. Microsoft is hoping architects, engineers, and designers will all see the promise of Mesh, particularly during a pandemic when it’s difficult to work with 3D physical models without all being in the same room.

Architects and engineers could physically walk through a holographic model of a factory floor under construction, seeing how all the pieces of equipment fit together in three dimensions, potentially avoiding costly mistakes.

Engineering or medical students learning about electric car engines or human anatomy could gather as avatars around a holographic model and remove parts of the engine or peel back muscles to see what’s underneath. Colleagues could simply get together and chat in a shared virtual space, or companies could use Microsoft Mesh-enabled apps to offer virtual all-hands meetings or trainings to employees around the world.

The Microsoft Mesh platform will in coming months 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, the company said.

Though users will have the richest experiences in mixed or virtual reality, Microsoft Mesh’s open standards will give developers the freedom to build solutions that will work across many different devices: HoloLens 2, a range of virtual reality headsets, smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Finally, we, at SmartechBay, believe that Multi-user collaboration will be one of the killer apps for XR, especially as the global pandemic and remote work continues to grow. It will take time for mixed reality collaboration to become as predominant as video or voice calls, but Mesh brings us much closer to that reality. We also believe that Mesh establishes the foundation for education applications and encourages more engaging and immersive educational experiences for students attending from anywhere in the world.