Microsoft MESH merges physical and virtual worlds to re-create the Avatar experience

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

The physical and digital worlds will inevitably merge, but getting “how” they merge right is tricky and MESH moves the dial in the right direction.

 

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Last week at its Microsoft Ignite conference the tech giant introduced a new Mixed Reality (MR) technology called Microsoft Mesh which is designed to allow people in different physical locations to “create shared experiences across both virtual and physical worlds.” And, if you watch the video, the experience looks breath taking. Also, given the fact that many of us are still living in lockdown, thanks to the global pandemic, it looks like Mesh might provide us all with a welcome new way to interact with one another. Furthermore, when this technology is combined with other technologies, such as Haptics and Acoustic Holograms, users everywhere will be able to feel the objects they’re interacting with “digitially” in this environment in new ways.

 

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Mesh works by making use of digital avatars and “Holoportation,” a new kind of 3D capture technology that, according to Microsoft, “allows high-quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed and transmitted anywhere in the world.”

The event featured virtual attendees from around the globe who were able to preview the mixed reality experience as avatars, all taking part in an event in the same holographic world.

 

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Using holoportation, which “beams” the user’s life-like image into a virtual world users using the platform will be able to be avatars in those virtual worlds. Powered by the company’s Azure Artificial Intelligence (AI), Microsoft Mesh will do more than just power virtual meetings. Through Microsoft’s app HoloLens and the Mesh-enabled AltspaceVR, eventually Microsoft hopes this carries over into applications for smartphones, tablets, PCs, and virtual reality headsets.

 

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The conference attracted some of the biggest names in entertainment, which included Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Lailberte, acclaimed director of “Avatar” James Cameron, and the advanced research team OceanXplorer.

“There’s a social component to this that’s essential” vice president of OceanX Vincent Pieribone said to Microsoft Innovation Stories. “We want to bring everyone into the same ‘room,’ so they can bounce things off each other and have human connection.”

From a scientific perspective, for example, the idea would be to bring in, and connect researchers who may not be on that expedition, but to feel like they are there.

 

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The opportunities to use this tech seem limitless. Lailberte hopes to use this as a means for live entertainment, such as concerts and theatre, through his Lune Rouge company’s Hanai World Project.

Brenda Stolyar from Mashable was able to preview Microsoft Mesh during the event, and was able to experience “holding” holographic moons, sharks, and jellyfish. Stolyar considered the detail in the holograms “impressive,” although he noted that the virtual space the preview took place in felt limited.

What Microsoft Mesh is building is a way to connect socially in a way that could be beneficial for entertainment and business industries, as well as possibly educational institutions in the future, and scientific endeavors. You can be anywhere, and collaborate regardless of geographic location and physical boundaries.

 

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The idea of being able to “transport or teleport” yourself to a place with others and create a shared experience even though you aren’t physically in the same room was explored in Cameron’s blockbuster film “Avatar.” The science fiction film centers around the idea of humans using genetically-engineered avatars to interact with the indegineous alien race of the planet Pandora, and, unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s marketing department and their CEO Satya Nadella are thinking of this new form of communication as an “interweaving of digital bits and physical atoms.”

“Mesh enables you to interact holographically with others with true presence, in a natural way,” Nadella said during the conference. “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.”

Microsoft Mesh could be a game-changer in that it attempts to bring the most authentic form of VR yet-seen into use, and the way it may be able to revolutionize social interactions, meetings, entertainment and science is intriguing.

 

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The traditional methods used for gaming, conferencing, research and social media are set for change if Microsoft Mesh takes is the success its creators hope for. Virtual reality, even at its best to-date, has felt clunky compared to what we’ve seen play out in pop culture renditions portrayed in programs like Netflix’s Black Mirror. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, video conferencing services like Zoom and Microsoft Teams saw record usage, and Microsoft Mesh may well be the next phase of technology to build off of this idea.

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