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Microsoft Takes the Lead to Bring Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Closer to the Masses

Microsoft's Alex Kipman in a holographic aquarium. Source Microsoft
Microsoft Corp., the leading tech giant recently introduced software tools that will allow people to access virtual reality and augmented reality content more easily and less expensively, as well as enable creators to build more holographic and digital worlds.

Interactive holograms

The new Mesh software from Microsoft will let users virtually work and play at the same time on their devices by interacting with the same set of holograms from various manufacturers at different price points, including Microsoft’s HoloLens AR goggles, Facebook’s Oculus, and other similar VR headsets, along with smartphones and PCs where users can have a two-dimensional view. The Mesh software also allows users from different locations to view the same hologram, thus enabling online events like work meetings or concerts to be held seamlessly. Through this software, one user will attend the event in person while the other will access the same from home via ‘holoporting’.

Connecting with others

Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO said in an interview that with this software, people can now be anywhere or take any avatar. Not just themselves, they can connect to all their friends and colleagues and do things together, even using holograms. Microsoft first announced their product in the VR space in 2015 with their HoloLens—a rather expensive product that primarily focused on corporate use, such as complex mechanical repair and clinical imaging. However, companies like Facebook, Snap Inc., and HP have been touting VR and AR as a breakthrough technology for a long time now.

Despite the launch of various glasses and goggles, AR and VR did not reach the masses until now, except for some lower-end mobile apps like the Pokemon Go AR game. To this end, Microsoft claims that a collection of cloud-based tools will enable creators to develop compelling VR and AR apps for all sorts of devices and will have a broader mass appeal. Nadella remarked that the key to making it happen is to bring these technologies to platforms and gadgets that consumers use the most, rather than having to go through extra hoops in order to access them.

John Hanke with his augmented reality Pikachu. Source: Niantic
John Hanke with his augmented reality Pikachu. Source: Niantic

With Microsoft’s Azure cloud, AI tools, and data, Mesh is now available for preview. Consumers can also request for accessing a Mesh-enabled version of Microsoft’s Altspace-VR meeting app. The tech giant announced that they will soon roll out additional privacy features and tools in the coming year and plans to add the features to the MS Team teleconferencing app.

Prototypes

On 2nd March 2021, a Washington-based software company called The Redmond demonstrated the prototypes of the new technology at their Ignite Conference. Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman said that for Microsoft, the idea of Mesh software is similar to their XBOX Live, which allowed developers to create online multiplayer games without having to create the platforms themselves. Additionally, Mesh uses spatial sound to change the audio based on where the users are located.

While the software tries to make the futuristic programs look easier, there is still a lot more to do. Nadella said that they are planning to continue with investigating VR and AR to realize Microsoft’s vision of “all-in computing”. He sees the venture as the industry should—keep pushing so that more people can collaborate, communicate and build stronger communities, whether it is for work or play.

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