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Collaborating with holograms: Could ‘mixed reality’ be the future of telecommuting?

Can’t make it to that meeting? Soon you might be able to attend as a 3D avatar, while you see faraway real-life objects in augmented reality.

That’s Object Theory‘s plan, anyway. The Portland-based startup is working with Microsoft’s HoloLens to make what it calls “mixed reality” not just a gameplay environment but a functional work tool.

The HoloLens only recently started shipping to developers, but Object Theory has been working with the devices for a while as part of the Microsoft HoloLens Readiness Program. Their first app for the new platform, “Mixed Reality Collaboration,” offers multiple users the ability to collaborate.

Users are represented by simplistic avatars, differentiated from each other by height, color, and a few pieces of flair. Demonstration pictures show single-color, faceless avatars wearing things like hard hats, vests, and glasses. The idea isn’t to create a virtual version of the user so much as it is to give other users a quick way to see who’s who and to know where they are looking.

The software, being demonstrated at Microsoft’s Build developer conference this week, was originally developed for CDM Smith, a full-service engineering and construction firm, to help employees there collaborate.

“We were inspired by Microsoft’s use of avatars for collaboration in their HoloLens use cases for NASA, Trimble, and Autodesk, and we wanted to bring a similar capability to our clients,” said Raven Zachary, Founding Partner of Object Theory. “Our first release is just the beginning of next-generation collaboration scenarios, something we expect to be a major focus for Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Holographic applications.”

At this point geeks just want to play around with the HoloLens, but it’s not strictly a toy. A range of companies and nonprofits, including a few schools, are examining work applications the HoloLens might have. We don’t really know how it will all end up, but it will be interesting to watch companies like Object Theory as they figure it out.