Microsoft announced on Thursday its latest push to what it calls mixed reality. Think virtual reality with a twist.
"If we take that digital world and bring that into our real world as if it was an object, we can interact with it just like we would everything else in our lives," said Greg Sullivan, senior project manager at Microsoft.
The concept of mixed reality (MR) is complicated at best, but it begins with a massive update to Windows 10 later this year. That update will essentially create an app-friendly environment from which developers can transport you to anywhere imaginable.
"You can teleport to another time and space. You can take a tour. We have an app that takes you to Machu Picchu," said Sullivan.
Maybe you put on the goggles and walk through your virtual home, past the pictures of your kids on your virtual wall, and sit down at your virtual desk to check your email and catch up on all your social media. Maybe you walk to the theater room to watch a movie. Or maybe instead of calling that relative who lives halfway across the country, you both slap on the goggles and have a virtual chat.
"What if it feels like I'm really standing in front of you and I look into your eyes, and I feel like I'm present, and we can share this experience," he said.
And then there's the commercial side of things. Instead of the $300 goggles (released around Christmas) that allow you to add real elements to a virtual world, you sport a $3,000 pair of Microsoft's HoloLens which do the opposite. They allow you to see what's in front of you, but overlay virtual elements. Already they are being used to transform transportation. In a partnership with Paccar, they've done away with the clay models in a wind tunnel and gone virtual.
"The hologram of the truck. And they can, oh, let me put a little more slope on that front end. Run it through the wind tunnel again. Ok, that's good," Sullivan said.
Medical students are learning like never before.
"They can literally get up and interact with a virtual human body. And so you can operate on a cadaver and see all these systems while the heart's still beating," he said.
Deschutes Brewing in Bend, Oregon, is even testing it out.
"And they have a bunch of sensors that are in the vats that tell them what's going on, and they can literally walk around and see what's the state of fermentation processes in each vat as they're viewing it. And they can determine which one is ready," Sullivan added.
The applications for the commercial and consumer markets seem endless. Whether you're helping to take modern medicine to the next level, or just enjoy a movie from bed without keeping your partner awake by the glow of the big screen, the trend is moving away from monitors to a world many of us might not be ready for yet.