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Microsoft’s new Mesh platform will let you meet with your coworkers in a virtual reality

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
·4-min read
Microsoft's Mesh platform is designed to make virtual in-person interactions with people from across the world a reality. (Image: Microsoft)
Microsoft's Mesh platform is designed to make virtual in-person interactions with people from across the world a reality. (Image: Microsoft)

Microsoft (MSFT) is dead set on making augmented and virtual reality a, well, reality for businesses and consumers tired of simple video chatting apps.

As part of its annual Ignite conference, the tech giant unveiled a new platform called Microsoft Mesh that is designed to create a kind of virtual world where users who don compatible AR and VR headsets can interact with each other as if they were in the same room.

Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman showed off a demo of the experience using what Microsoft calls a “holoportation” or realistic avatar of himself interacting with various pieces of test software.

“This has been the dream for mixed reality, the idea from the very beginning,” Kipman said 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.”

The idea behind Microsoft Mesh is to allow companies to create virtual meeting places where users such as engineers can meet to work collaboratively on projects like 3D engineering models. The software, Microsoft says, is advanced enough to allow you to pass 3D objects to meeting participants as if they existed in reality.

Architects, the company says, will be able to use the platform to create and walk through holographic versions of building plans to get a better sense of how they will appear when finished. Medical students, meanwhile, will be able to practice their skills on virtual cadavers to better understand their inner workings.

Microsoft's Alex Kipman demonstrates the company's new Mesh platform as part of its Ignite Conference. (Image: Microsoft)
Microsoft's Alex Kipman demonstrates the company's new Mesh platform as part of its Ignite Conference. (Image: Microsoft)

Microsoft has been working on augmented reality for years now. Its Hololens headset was one of its first mixed reality efforts and allowed users to interact with digital objects that appeared to float in front of them.

I’ve used both the Hololens and the Hololens 2, which offers improved hardware, and have been able to navigate 3D houses and test the limits of the systems’ physics engines.

Of course, at $3,500, the Hololens 2 isn’t cheap. It’s designed for large companies and universities to take advantage of rather than individual users — unless you’ve got some extra change sitting around.

'Bringing my virtual friends along'

But Microsoft isn’t just focusing on industrial applications for Mesh. The company is also working to make the platform consumer friendly. It has teamed up with “Pokémon GO” developer Niantic to show off how Mesh can enable multiple people to play the game at once in a virtual setting.

“This notion of bringing my virtual friends along with me as I go out and walk and explore the world — I just love that concept and I’m really interested to see what we can do with that,” Veronica Saron, product marketing manager for “Pokémon GO,” said.

Out of the gate Microsoft says users will create digital avatars of themselves to use in Mesh, but over time, the company says you’ll be able to use those slick “holoportation” avatars that give your representative a more realistic look.

Microsoft isn’t the only tech company working on this kind of software. Facebook’s (FB) Oculus has its own platform called Spatial that allows you to interact with others in a virtual space using avatars. Apple (AAPL) is also reportedly working on its own AR/VR headset — though that is expected to cost as much as the Hololens 2 and may not make it to consumers’ hands for some time.

It will take a while for some of these ideas to come to fruition for sure. But if we’re able to virtually meet with colleagues in an increasingly work-from-home-friendly world, such services could help alleviate some of the problems associated with video chat platforms, including talking over others and the impersonal feeling of chatting with someone not in the same room as you.

At the very least, it might make getting virtual drinks a lot more appealing.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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