The Garage Reality Room is a place where Microsoft employees and volunteers can learn, experiment, and hack on XR (Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality). Its goal is to be a platform to explore XR technology and encourage employees to develop and launch new and innovative ideas.
2017 was a busy year for Microsoft and Mixed Reality. Not only did the tech giant announce five VR headsets with partners, but they also acquired and resurrected the popular VR social app AltspaceVR, as well as showed off their dedication to their HoloLens AR headset with a patent on mixed reality wands.
With 2018 upon us, Microsoft is still committed to mixed reality–this time with the expansion of what they dubbed The Garage–a space originally created for employees and interns to explore, create and innovate in areas such as 3D printing and new hardware. But now The Garage is to include an area called The Reality Room, a place where employees have access to a full gambit of immersive technology such as AR, VR, and MR, or as some collectively call it, XR.
When it came to the look and feel of the Reality Room, it needed to be futuristic, and it needed to inspire innovation. This meant that every aspect of the rooms design had to be explored.
Mike Pell (Mixed Reality Envisioneer at Microsoft), Rolly Seth (Program Manager for The Garage), and Susie Kandzor (Senior Events Marketing Manager at Microsoft)–the team behind the design of the Reality Room–worked hard on design research to ensure the Reality Room was inspiring, creating a room that pulled inspiration from immersive art galleries, rather than scientific labs.
Spatial flexibility was important to accommodate change and the fast-pace evolution of hardware innovation. Sensors and speakers were blended into the walls and workstations are placed in a way to create an environment that allows for people to collaborate, think, and be social.
In an interview with VRScout, Mike Pell elaborated on some of the inspiration behind the Reality Room’s design. “We did look into the feasibility of re-creating the Nebuchadnezzar in exacting detail (just kidding), but seriously, it was more a mashup of some of our favorite sci-fi environments along with a Tron feel,” Pell said. “The desired effect was to transport people to the future, even if just for a moment. That’s done all the time in great science fiction movies. The fastest way for us to accomplish that goal was to put people within an environment that had the feel of those stellar spaces.”
When it comes to hardware available in the Reality Room, the team purposely included headsets from the entire AR/MR/VR ecosystem to ensure people could learn about all types of experiences. “In addition to Windows Mixed Reality headsets and HoloLens, we have Vive, Rift, Daydream, a variety of AR glasses, and 360 VR cameras,” Pell added. “We’re very focused on making this an open-minded space for experimentation.”
Believe it or not, even though Microsoft is, well, Microsoft–not every employee has actually had a chance to experience AR or VR. The Reality Room gives these employees an opportunity to not only experience any form of mixed reality for the first time, but also check out what their fellow employees are working on, and even be a part of the collaboration process.
“We designed the Garage Reality Rooms to serve the same purpose as our Maker spaces around the world – give people easy access to a wide variety of the latest technologies where they can deeply explore and learn by doing”, said Pell.
Rolly Seth, wanted to create an environment that was filled with Microsoft volunteers who are passionate about mixed reality, are willing to lead workshops, be a part of discussions, and support that “learn by doing” approach, that Pell mentioned.
Though the Reality Room is being utilized by Microsoft teams during core work hours, team members are encouraged to explore the Reality Room on their own time. This creates a unique no-pressure play space with zero expectations, and hands-on experiences free of time restraints. Think of it as a incubator for innovation.
What the Garage Reality Room team hopes for is an environment that sparks a more organic hackathon culture with Microsoft team members.
“Open-ended hackathons are part of The Garage mojo,” said Pell. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see teams around the company investing their time in utilizing the Garage Reality Room for curiosity-fueled explorations and new project development.”.
In the end, Pell and the Garage Reality Room team see benefits of XR exploration both internally and externally. Internally it’s creating opportunity for new exploration, while externally, Microsoft is hoping to stoke the coals of an entire XR ecosystem that is well-rounded and not just a Microsoft-centric one.
As Pell says, “Sky is the limit now.”