Microsoft is updating its popular Teams work communications application to include real-time 3D (RT3D) digital human avatars this May. The solutions provider first announced the inclusion of virtual humans for Teams back in 2021. However, following the closure of its Metaverse service AltSpace VR Microsoft is doubling down on immersive content for its leading workplace application.
Microsoft announced the update’s release window as part of its 365 Roadmap earlier this week. According to reports, Microsoft is already testing the service among select users, ready for its debut later this year.
Avatars in Microsoft Teams allow users to correspond with their coworkers as a digital rendition of themselves. Moreover, aside from just being a fancy alternative to a camera feed, Avatars in Microsoft Teams also allows users to partake in a video call without requiring a camera connection.
In its roadmap, Microsoft explains:
Avatars for Microsoft Teams gives you that much-needed camera break, while still allowing you to collaborate effectively. You can add a new layer of choice to your meetings and represent yourself the way you want with customizable avatars and reactions.
The update comes as Microsoft pushes to deliver immersive solutions based on its Mesh infrastructure. Microsoft Mesh is an Azure service which leverages XR technology to provide interoperable immersive communication and collaboration solutions.
Recently, Microsoft extended its Mesh support to cover the Meta Quest Pro device, following a partnership between the two major technology vendors late last year. The move enables users to access Mesh services on PC, mobile, Hololens, and now Meta Quest devices.
From AltSpace to Mesh
The recent Microsoft 365 roadmap update comes following the firm’s closure of AltSpace VR.
Microsoft bought the service in 2017, following its debut in May 2015. The Metaverse service gained popularity across the years, although following a steep rise in competition, Microsoft chose to close the service on March 10, 2023.
Following the closure, Microsoft transferred many of its remaining staff and resources to Microsoft’s development of Mesh. In its closing statements, the transferred Altspace VR team explained that they will contribute to creating a Mesh platform that provides the “widest opportunity to all involved, including creators, partners and customers.”
Microsoft already operated AltSpace VR via its Mesh development team, seemingly allowing for a simple transfer of resources. Although Microsoft’s immersive divisions have been facing constant hurdles since mid-2022, putting some of the firm’s XR projects into question.
For example, Microsoft slowly ceased development into its mixed reality tool kit (MRTK) software development kit; beforehand, the Hololens also faced severe concerns following a collapse in leadership mid-last year.
Going forward, Microsoft continues to leverage Mesh as an immersive workplace tool on its platforms and for third parties. Moreover, since its hurdles last year, the Hololens’ future seems more straightforward, with company representatives suggesting a third iteration is waiting around the corner.
Additionally, Microsoft is investing heavily in the emerging AI landscape. Recently, the firm entered a deep working partnership with OpenAI to leverage its Chat GPT solution across its 365 infrastructure.
Alongside its Avatars in Microsoft Teams update, Teams is also gaining AI operations to enhance the service for workers at all levels.