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Cisco to add AR collaboration to Webex

Cisco's Webex Hologram is an augmented reality product aimed at improving collaboration when workers can't be in the same space. Cisco didn't provide a release date.

Cisco has unveiled a Webex augmented reality meeting product, joining competitors Microsoft and Zoom in the virtual collaboration market.

Cisco's Webex Hologram, introduced today, uses AR headsets to display 3D representations of meeting attendees, making them appear in the same space. The company launched Webex Hologram in preview this week at its WebexOne conference.

The Webex Hologram announcement makes Cisco the latest UC and collaboration vendor introducing virtual reality (VR) and AR to provide a sense of physical presence between in-office and at-home workers.

Microsoft released a preview of its AR and VR platform Mesh earlier this year. In 2022, BlueJeans by Verizon plans to launch a virtual workspace. Zoom will provide a virtual option through integration with Facebook's Horizons Workrooms VR conference room next year. The companies claim their virtualized spaces can re-create the spontaneous conversations and sense of camaraderie within a real office.

Cisco said Webex Hologram is more immersive than its competitors' offerings because it uses photorealistic 3D images of meeting attendees. In contrast, Facebook, Microsoft and Bluejeans use simplistic avatars to represent workers.

Cisco executive Jeetu Patel said Webex Hologram would help in situations like training and design. For example, engineers could interact with a 3D prototype of a car and discuss design improvements.

A worker using Cisco's Webex Hologram
Webex Hologram will use augmented reality to make coworkers in a hybrid workplace appear to be in the same room.

"We believe [AR technology] will make its way into practical use in a faster time than you may have thought," Patel said.

According to Cisco, Webex Hologram is compatible with several AR headsets, including Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap. Cisco is testing the product with British car manufacturer McLaren Automotive. The vendor hasn't provided a Hologram release date.

Metrigy analyst Irwin Lazar said Webex Hologram would be helpful in healthcare, education and manufacturing. However, he added that he doesn't believe AR technology will be necessary for regular business meetings.

"I don't think [Webex Hologram] is something people are going to look at and say, 'I have to have this and provision it out to all my employees,'" he said.

Cisco announced a slew of other features for its Webex products:

  • An upcoming capability will ensure remote workers can hear everyone in a conference room. AI will equalize the volume for all in-person participants, even if they're far from the conference room's microphone. The feature will roll out to Webex users in December.
  • Cisco put its asynchronous video product, Vidcast, into public beta. The company said short video messages on Vidcast could replace some meetings, reducing video conferencing fatigue. Cisco will integrate Vidcast messages into Webex in spring 2022.
  • Cisco will launch a feature that individually frames conference-room participants in December. People Focus helps remote employees read the facial expressions and body language of in-room attendees. In 2022, Webex hardware will place conference-room attendees in individual video frames on other meeting services as well.
  • Cisco plans to improve the way its Webex devices work with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet later this year. The company did not provide details.
  • Webex's Collaboration Insights will provide managers with anonymized information to avoid worker fatigue. Cisco said managers could use data like employees working late to prevent worker burnout.
  • Cisco expects to use technology from its Meraki and ThousandEyes acquisitions to help IT identify and solve problems that could affect Webex performance.

Cisco introduced Webex devices as well. The Desk Mini has a 15.6-inch display, an HD camera and an array of microphones. The company will start selling the Desk Mini next year for $995.

Cisco will also release a whiteboard device, the Webex Board Pro, in November. The device will have two 4K cameras, directional audio and two styluses. The 55-inch Board Pro costs $8,995, while the 75-inch model will retail for $14,995.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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