Microsoft Teams is getting avatars and will be available in VR and AR next year

Microsoft Teams is becoming metaversified, with the goal of becoming the Zoom for VR.

Despite the fact that numerous firms are working on it, there isn’t yet a “Zoom for VR.” The majority of people’s everyday work equipment has yet to make the transition. Facebook, which is attempting to integrate its whole business into the metaverse, does not yet have one. Meanwhile, Microsoft is pushing Teams into a VR/AR-enabled tool that will be available in beta in the first half of 2022.

Microsoft’s Hololens headsets, as well as a set of virtual meeting spaces that will fold in Microsoft Office 365 apps and services, are at the center of the cross-device upgrade for computers, phones, VR, and Microsoft’s Hololens headsets.

It sounds similar to what Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms intended to be for virtual work gatherings in some ways.

During the epidemic, Microsoft Teams was reimagined: Together Mode, a 2020 experimental add-on, reorganized users into classrooms and auditoriums, similar to a translation of the spirit of VR into a 2D video conferencing program. The adjustments were developed swiftly once Microsoft realized that the globe wouldn’t be spending most of its time in VR headsets doing remote work anytime soon and that Zoom fatigue was a serious issue.

The next stage in Microsoft Teams is to take those avatars and give users more control over their personal looks and identity. The avatars will work in Teams’ 2D modes as a substitute for exposing your face on camera, but they will be able to exhibit reactions and emotions. They’ll also work in 3D immersive environments that mix VR, AR, and 2D screens.
According to Nicole Herskowitz, general manager of Microsoft Teams, research conducted by the company’s internal Human Factors Lab found that 85 percent of people using avatars felt “very or somewhat present” in meetings and that 75 percent of other people using avatars also felt “very or somewhat present.”

That led Microsoft to believe that avatars, rather than the conventional either/or alternatives of having a camera on or off, could be more realistic stand-ins for group meetings. The avatars will be animated by AI that reads vocal signals initially, but will then rely on cameras and hand tracking. As the Teams app grows, Microsoft says that VR and AR headsets with additional cameras and movement sensors may be able to help animate more expressive avatars.

 

The avatars aren’t the same as the ones Microsoft already employs in virtual reality on Altspace VR: they’re a little more natural, less cartoonish, but still not photorealistic.

When the trial starts next year, there will be a limited number of immersive places available, but firms might gradually build out their own virtual office surroundings.

Microsoft cites Accenture as an early partner as an example of where their vision is heading. Accenture has a VR-capable collection of virtual meeting spaces for remote workers to enter into, which serve as both professional meeting spots and more casual virtual spaces, such as home versions of office lounge rooms.

Microsoft’s cross-device Mesh platform for AR, VR, mobile, and PCs was announced earlier this year, and it seeks to provide the same bridge between headsets, phones, and laptops that Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse-focused Meta business is going for, and where companies like Apple may soon start making advances. Over the coming year, cross-device and avatar-focused communication will be a big subject for a number of firms, as ambitions for a common metaverse begin to take the place of typical VR/AR talks.