Microsoft’s Azure Spatial Anchors Helping Create Mixed Reality Apps

The service gives business users the ability to build new mixed reality applications for a wide range of uses.

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HoloLens

Microsoft has unveiled a preview of a new Azure Spatial Anchors service that gives business users the ability to build collaborative, cross-platform and spatially aware applications that take advantage of mixed reality capabilities.

The Azure Spatial Anchors services were announced by Neena Kamath, the principal program manager for Azure Mixed Reality, in a Feb. 25 post on the Azure Blog.

Mixed reality, a blend of the physical and digital worlds, uses holograms to represent digital information by creating objects made of light and sound that then appear in the space around users. Artificial intelligence capabilities are then used to allow the holograms to respond to commands and interact with real-world surfaces in real time for a more natural and intuitive experience.

The Azure Spatial Anchors application can create experiences that can be seen by users through Microsoft HoloLens 2 headsets or iOS or Android devices.

For businesses, these capabilities are being explored in new approaches for worker training, factory work, manufacturing, health care and uses in a wide range of other industries, wrote Kamath.

"It's amazing to look back at everything we've learned from our customers since we first released HoloLens," she wrote. "Across manufacturing, education, retail, gaming and many other industries, developers and businesses are using mixed reality in their daily workflows and giving us feedback on what they'd like to see next."

The spatial anchors preview allows users to build cross-platform mixed reality applications with spatial context that maps, designates and provides precise points of interest that are accessible through the devices being used by users.

This adds context to the real world for users when using devices such as HoloLens 2, giving users a better understanding of their data, where they need it and when they need it by placing and connecting digital content to physical points of interest through the applications.

"When we look across all the mixed reality solutions that customers have been building over the last few years, two things really stand out: collaboration and spatial awareness," she wrote. "Customers want to easily share their mixed reality experiences and place applications in the context of the real world and thereby increase their efficiency and achieve greater productivity."

Ultimately, mixed reality aims to enable humans to do more and to collaborate with those around us in a more natural and intuitive way, she wrote.

"Whether it's architects and site workers reviewing the day's plans for a new construction project, designers and managers collaborating on next year's car model or a team of surgeons planning a procedure before operating, mixed reality has changed the way that humans now design, review and learn together," wrote Kamath. "Across industries, one of the top tasks from our customers is to make it easier to share such experiences in mixed reality."

Mixed Reality in Action

In one demonstration project, Pearson Education is using mixed reality to allow nursing students and professors to practice diagnosing and treating ill patients in 3D before the pressure of a real case through the use of HoloLens devices or smartphones and tablets, wrote Kamath.

"Until today, sharing mixed reality experiences across devices and across platforms required either environmental setup, such as QR codes, or complex coding to handle the different sensors and endpoints," wrote Kamath. "Azure Spatial Anchors provides a common coordinate frame for shared mixed reality experiences across HoloLens, iOS and Android devices without any environmental setup needed. With Azure Spatial Anchors, everyone can collaborate in mixed reality, whether they are in a heads-up, hands-free experience on HoloLens devices, or they are participating via mobile phones and tablets."

Other early customers are experimenting with mixed reality in manufacturing, where users can walk along a factory line and visualize the status of each machine so they can navigate and focus on the equipment and spot any issues.

"Until today, precisely mapping a large space and persisting that spatial understanding was not possible for most of our mixed reality customers," wrote Kamath. "Azure Spatial Anchors is designed for this: connecting the right data to the right people in the right places, so people can work like they live—in 3D."