Just as the Microsoft Garage has created makerspaces around the world to give our employees and interns the opportunity to get hands-on with 3D printing and hardware-oriented projects, we have recently created several “Reality Rooms” at our Garage locations. These specialized spaces provide quick access to the latest in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality (collectively called “XR”) all in one place.
“It’s the future. It’s what my kids are going to be doing, it’s what you are going to be doing. It’s as monumental as the mouse and keyboard was.”
– Ben Godard, Sr. Security Software Engineer – Azure
A space is not enough
Widely recognized as a key part of future computing platforms, XR is now becoming affordable to more people, and as a result the focus of many new project explorations worldwide. Through Windows Mixed Reality offerings, Microsoft is enabling an entirely new way to work, play, and connect with people.
Given this whole field is moving so quickly, The Garage team needed an easy way for people to experience and learn about the latest XR tech and development techniques. But, just providing a well-equipped space with “one of everything” in one spot was not going to work given some of the high-tech hardware can look a bit daunting at first. This unique challenge required some creative thinking by Rolly Seth, the Program Manager who runs the Garage Reality Room. Rolly knew from our previous efforts building a vibrant Maker community in The Garage that passionate employees are always the key to success in these situations. By recruiting an enthusiastic group of employee volunteers who already had a great interest in this space, The Garage is now able to offer a wide range of hands-on workshops, talks, and drop-in office hours to support employee exploration within the Reality Room.
“I love the most about being in this space is watching how people react to VR for the first time.”
– Anne Gwynne – Robson, Software Engineer – Universal Store
Learn by doing
Not just a state-of-the-art showroom, these rooms are actual workspaces for employees. An important aspect of that is a focus on having people “learn by doing”. Rather than just watching others participate in VR sessions or listening to talks, employees and interns roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty working directly on the tech. Whether it’s learning to write some code, or jumping into an immersive digital experience, employees love the hands-on aspect. In fact, some of our early visitors and volunteers are already coming up with exciting new ideas to pursue.
The Garage team needed the Reality Room to be both an inspirational showcase and an active workspace – two seemingly opposite goals. With that in mind, Garage Envisioneer Mike Pell designed a futuristic space that feels very much like a spaceship, but serves its dual purposes well. Many VR headsets adorn the walls and shelving, along with 360 VR cameras, HoloLens, and AR glasses. Sensors and surround sound speakers are integrated into the ceiling, while custom lighting adds a key to the aesthetic and feel of the room. Workdesks are strategically placed to keep the room’s center open as a “play space” where multiple people can interact at the same time. The room design itself has evolved over several build-outs in Garage locations around the world to integrate what is learned through each successive build-out and active usage.
You’d expect to have all of the latest Microsoft technologies in a workspace like this, but perhaps not the entire XR ecosystem represented as was done here. The space offers everything from casual trials, to coding stations, to full green screen motion capture capabilities for people to explore. A unique feature of that room is using HoloLens “Spectator View” technology to broadcast a third-person perspective of people immersed in their holographic experiences on a wall-sized monitor outside the room for people to enjoy without being within the space itself.
As the industry pushes forward in this exciting realm, The Garage Reality Room will continue to evolve as we track new developments, but more importantly, we’ll grow our capabilities and focus to meet the interests and passion of our employees and interns.
“It’s great that Microsoft is investing into this technology and allowing people to explore.”
– Filip Sebesta – Sr. Program Manager – Skype