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Combining the physical with the virtual

HoloMeeting can bring remote teams together, simplifying collaboration and communication

Mixed reality is starting to have an impact on the commercial world bringing the physical and virtual together.

Let’s start with the basics. When we talk about mixed reality what do we mean and how should it be defined?

According to Matthew Bumford, Head of Sales and Marketing at Kazendi, a HoloLens Development Studio, mixed reality (MR) is, “a technology that looks to blend the physical world with the virtual and provide the user with a better understanding of the real world.”

Recognising real objects and then allowing holograms to physically and accurately interact with them, Kazendi is among a number of businesses that are using MR to work with clients to create and deliver mixed reality projects.

“Initially, we focused on the Amazon Echo and Google Glass,” explains Bumford, “applying these technologies to the needs of commercial clients and providing prototypes. With the arrival of Microsoft’s HoloLens in 2016 we saw a shift in focus and started to explore the commercial application of the Hololens.”

HoloLens is a virtual reality (VR) headset with transparent lenses and Kazendi is using it to create solutions that look to address real-world corporate problems.

Comparing mixed reality (MR) to VR and augmented reality (AR) Bumford suggests they support very different applications.

“VR requires a closed tethered helmet that provides the user with a fully immersed, pre-built environment. AR, by contrast, overlays digital displays in the real world, using pre-set digital markers. When it comes to MR it blends the two. You get to see the real world without the need for pre-set digital markers to formulate content.

“MR does everything in real time, merging real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations,” he contends.

Crucially it enables physical and digital objects to co-exist and interact in real time.

“From a commercial perspective VR may be great for training, gaming and immersive entertainment, but beyond that it’s currently limited by the need for massive computing power and the fact that users will need to be tethered to powerful computing systems,” Bumford suggests. “By contract AR can live in your pocket on your mobile phone but tends to be limited when it comes to large scale digitisation, currently it just isn’t supportable.”

Bumford says that MR and AR are likely to merge in the future, “It’s early days and we’re still playing with the terminology,” he insists.

As hardware gets smaller and more ergonomic we’ll be able to fit into glasses or contact lenses and that will open up the technology to more applications and end markets.

“At the moment these technologies are cumbersome to wear. The large headsets are limiting, but for engineering and construction that’s not an issue. In fact, Microsoft are developing a specific hardhat for use in the industrial space.”

According to Sriram Chilamkurthi, Business Development, Kazendi “Many industries will benefit from using Mixed Reality and HoloLens users will gain from having access to the HoloLens ecosystem.”

HoloMeeting app

Remote collaboration and communication are viewed as the “next big thing,” according to Bumford and Kazendi has developed the HoloMeeting app for HoloLens, supported by Windows’ Mixed Reality ecosystem.

“HoloMeeting has been designed to bring dispersed teams together by simplifying remote communication and collaboration,” explains Chilamkurthi.

“It can be used in remote work spaces and allows for much greater and more fluid collaboration and comes with a variety of features,” he explains.

HoloMeeting offers a live view feature, for example, which allows it to be used in the field as a form of remote assistance or as a training tool.

“It can be used in a manufacturing process to assist engineers with these remote assistance capabilities,” Bumford suggests.

HoloMeeting allows the integration of holograms within a real-world environment which means that individuals are able to meet in a holographic space. They can also interact with 3D and 2D content.

“That capability is new and is supported by a gaze tracker and spatial sound,” explains Bumford.

“Each person in a meeting will wear a HoloLens and will see a holographic cube in their view which is the immersive collaborative space.”

Whatever is shared in the workplace becomes visible to everyone else in the meeting.

“Whether that’s a pdf or a 3D model, for example, once placed in the cube it becomes visible. It will also be possible for participants to manipulate the document of model.”

Once the object is taken out of the cube, however, only the host will access to it providing a degree of control and direction to the meeting and means that agendas can be adhered to.

"Remote collaboration and communication are viewed as the 'next big thing'."
Matthew Bumford

According to Chilamkurthi, HoloMeeting has access to a variety of 3D modelling software such as Revit, Maya, Rhino and AutoCad but work is being carried out to make the HoloMeeting app compatible with over 60 different file types.

“HoloMeeting comprises of three elements,” says Chilamkurthi. “The first element is the shared workspace itself which increases the immersive and collaborative potential of holographic meetings.”

The second feature is the gaze input.

“When someone dials in to a meeting they are represented by an avatar that moves as they do,” he explains.

If a person decides to walk around the shared workspace, other users are made aware of their position, relative to themselves, and where they are looking.

The laser gaze allows movement and helps to make the meeting a more immersive and collaborative experience, according to Bumford.

Above: HoloMeeting has a live view feature, which means it can be used in the field

“Not only can participants view models, prototypes, charts, visualisations, and documents but they can do so from a range of different angles which helps to enhance the working experience.

“It also means that all participants, not just the host, can be made aware of what everyone is doing. We’re targeting upwards of 20 users, beyond that and the advantages are limited,” Bumford suggests.

The final key feature of HoloMeeting is its use and deployment of spatial sound. As users move around the shared space, the direction from which they are heard changes as they move.

“If a colleague walks from the right to the left, the sound will also transition from your right ear to your left and if multiple people talk at the same time it’s now possible to clearly hear all parties instead of dealing with a blur of noise,” Bumford says.

The HoloMeeting app provides a significant improvement on current videoconferencing and remote meeting solutions, but it’s the use of spatial sound that makes for a more realistic conversation which has tended to be the main problem when it comes to remote meetings.

According to Bumford, HoloMeeting provides the opportunity for real time collaboration in ways that were not possible before.

“We’re looking to work with academia and companies from across different industries. Clients are varied but one, in the automotive space, is using the HoloMeeting app so that their internal design teams can now meet more regularly. They no longer have to travel between their offices in the UK and Europe, which they are currently doing every two weeks.”

Global design teams, for example, will now be able to work together; can complete individual tasks; check progress with their peers and, ultimately, deliver a far more collaborative project.

“Our aim,” according to Bumford, “is to use this technology to change the way teams and companies organise their work processes.”

Author
Neil Tyler

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