Mixed Reality, XR, is supported by Microsoft through its development of its Mesh platform, with wider adoption enabled via open standards, benefiting industry partners such as AEC tech provider Bentley Systems.
Two days before a call with Bentley Systems’ Greg Demchak, I watched Microsoft‘s online launch of its new Microsoft Mesh mixed reality platform (on 2 March 2021 – read Engadget news), accessing the Ignite Keynote using Microsoft’s AltSpaceVR desktop visualisation tool (strangely reminiscent in its use of avatars of the web-based Second Life environment).
The Microsoft Mesh launch was preceded by a video keynote from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadel, presented somewhat conventionally as a 2D video, but embedded in a virtual auditorium that also resembled an aquarium (a bit like being immersed within Finding Nemo.). After that, the event was largely run within Microsoft Mesh, which is hosted in the company’s Azure platform and enables people in multiple locations to deploy various devices to join and collaborate in a shared holographic space.
Microsoft’s Hololens 2, smartphones, third-party VR headsets, and AltspaceVR are all supported, and the company plans to extend Mesh to support Microsoft Teams and its Dynamics 365 application in due course.
After Nadella’s contribution, Microsoft’s Alex Kipman welcomed people to the presentation and encouraged attendees to interact with the space – we could even choose the fish we wanted to see swimming around the event. As might be expected from a mainstream technology vendor heavily invested in the consumer market, there was some focus on how Mesh might be used to provide consumer applications (Pokémon Go for Hololens 2, for example), but there were also practical examples of business use cases.
This is supported through the OpenXR standard, helping industry to standardise around common functions and inputs such as hand- and eye-tracking, while also helping to support numerous XR devices from numerous manufacturers simultaneously. Mesh’s open-source approach also accelerates development of enterprise-strength features such as secure sign in and privacy compliance. Mesh also provides a cross-platform developer software development kit (SDK) enabling developers to create apps targeting their choice of platform and devices – whether AR, VR, PCs, or phones. Today it supports Unity alongside native C++ and C#, but in the coming months, Mesh will also have support for Unreal (see previous 3D Repo post), Babylon, and React Native (read Microsoft’s technical overview).
Bentley Systems and Microsoft Mesh
The Ignite event included a segment about using Microsoft Mesh to share visualisations of infrastructure (in this case bridges) captured using Bentley Systems’ ContextCapture, and other tools, plus Hololens 2 devices.
Bentley has long featured strategic inputs from Microsoft at its annual Year in Infrastructure events. In 2013, for example, it announced its Connect strategy to extend project and asset information mobility through the Windows Azure cloud (Bentley embraces cloud still further with Microsoft Azure). Just over two years ago, in February 2019, Bentley (and Trimble) featured in Microsoft’s launch of Hololens 2 in Barcelona (Bentley and Trimble launch new Hololens 2 products), by which time integration between Bentley and Microsoft had also extended to extensive integration between Bentley and the Microsoft Office 365 suite of solutions (October 2018 post), with Bentley’s SaaS SME collaboration offering now marketed as ProjectWise 365.
Greg Demchak, who joined Bentley following its June 2018 acquisition of Synchro, says Mesh enables the easy sharing of Azure real-time rendered 3D imagery for mixed reality interaction – for example, between clients and designers. In the US, Bentley has been working with Minnesota’s Department of Transport and Collins Engineers to improve inspection workflows by bringing detailed field-captured close-up imagery into the office – in the words of one project team member: “to bring the bridge into the office to do the inspection”:
An Extranet Evolution landmark
This is the 2,000th post on Extranet Evolution, a blog started in September 2005, and taking its name from the subtitle of my book on construction collaboration technologies published that year.
Before a change of hosting platform in 2012, I gave occasional updates on readership (here’s 2012’s). Since the start of 2013, the blog has received over 600,000 views, averaging some 6,400 view per calendar month (77,000 per annum). Many thanks to the many readers and others who have contributed to its content over the past 15 years. – Paul Wilkinson