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Blurred lines: Microsoft on what it envisions for the future of mixed reality

At Microsoft’s Build conference held in Seattle, Washington, the company’s corporate vice president of its operating systems group Joe Belfiore said he was brimming with excitement to see where mixed reality is going next.

“Mixed reality’s path is still being written, but I still believe it’s going to changed everything,” he told the crowd.

“I’m excited to see where it’s going in gaming, but I’m even more inspired to see how mixed is already digitally transforming businesses around the world.”

He gave examples of companies that had already worked with Microsoft to create customised Hololens suited to the job they do, which include Japan Airlines, Mod Pizza and even said the augmented reality tech will soon be used for retail interior designing.

Hololens creator Alex Kipman then made an appearance on stage to share the success of the headset in the year gone by.

It’s been an amazing year, he said, as the Hololens began shipping to the US and Canada around the time of Microsoft Build in 2016.

Since then, he says over 22,000 developers have created over 70,000 concepts on the device.

People have also spent 5.5 million hours immersed in holographic experiences so far, he said.

“We are now in nine countries, and by the end of the month we will welcome China – the world’s biggest market for virtual reality – for a mixed reality journey.”

Though Kipman didn’t divulge any jaw-dropping information on arguably Microsoft’s most exciting product, the announcement of a new, affordably priced Acer VR headset got a stir out of the crowd.

At a far more consumer-focused price point of $US299, the virtual reality Acer device is aimed at attracting a crowd the costly US$3000 Hololens can’t.

But Kipman emphasised that though the two are different products, they shouldn’t be thought of as separate.

“All this talk in the industry about virtual reality vs augmented reality – ‘Who’s getting to scale first?’ These are not separate concepts; they are different points on a mixed reality continuum. We should be thinking and and not about. And meaning including, embracing, unifying.”

As a case study, another one of Microsoft’s high-profile Hololens business partners was unveiled – Cirque du Soleil.

In a stage demonstration with virtual performers, director of creation for the company Chantal Tremblay said it takes Cirque du Soleil about 18 to 24 months from choosing a theme for a show to releasing it to the public.

Using the Hololens has completely transformed the show’s creative process, she said.

“Now with this technology altogether with the creative, we’re able to see exactly what the public will experience in the end.”

Cirque scenic designer Carl Fillion went even further, saying Cirque is closer than ever to the “perfect creation tool”.

The pair demonstrated how they can design a set from scratch, adding in props and even performers with the Hololens.

A show director located in Europe also joined in on the on-stage antics as an avatar via Microsoft’s Acer VR device.

The demonstration was similar to one displayed with NASA in 2015, where scientists showed how they could explore Mars with the headset.

Kipman also shared his vision for the future of augmented and virtual reality tech, describing a device that’s far less intrusive, with far more capabilities.

“In the future, devices will become lenses that will allow us to see, touch and feel mixed reality,” he said. “Mixed reality will enable us the freely and instinctually mix real people, places and things with virtual people places and things.”

“This will unlock amazing new experiences, experiences anchored to the physical or virtual world around us. Devices will adapt easily, blending the real and virtual into mixed reality. We are already building towards this future, that vision’s been right there from the start.”

“The blueprint is in front of all of us.”

One thing is for sure: The race to blur the lines between reality and technology as inconspicuously is possible is on – and unlike its experience in mobile devices, Microsoft wants to be the dominant player.

But the race is heating up, with Sony recently being awarded a patent for a contact lens that can record moments with the blink of an eye and Facebook launching a social VR app.

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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