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Recently, I attended Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Dev Days virtual conference. This was a long but very informative conference with a wide variety of topics, including the Mixed Reality Toolkit (MRTK).  I learned many new things from this conference that I did not know before. I had heard about the mixed reality toolkit (MRTK) but I did not know what it is, exactly, or what its uses and purposes are.

Microsoft defines mixed reality as, “a blend of physical and digital worlds, unlocking natural and intuitive 3D human, computer, and environmental interactions.” It allows us to interact with computer systems without needing to be screen-bound in our everyday lives. A Mixed Reality Toolkit (MRTK) accelerates the development of AR and VR to create immersive experiences while saving time and money.

mixed realityThe biggest thing I learned about was the MRTK and the new version, MRTK3. Grace HSU, Microsoft’s Product Manager of Mixed Reality, explained that MRTK is a collection of building blocks for spatial interactions. It’s a pioneer in mixed reality development because of its cross-platform, fast time to value and its extensible and customizable platform. I discovered the features of MRTK, like object manipulator, bounds control, hand menu, and spatial awareness. But these features are only a small subset of the MRTK; the MRTK3 has a revamped packaging scheme providing rich 3D UI tooling with a dynamic layout. MRTK3 builds on the strengths of others like the Unity XR interaction toolkit, open XR cross-vendor standards, and the Unity input system. 

Another area where I was able to expand my knowledge was in Zappy’s Playground. Brent Jackson, Microsoft’s Senior Product Manager of Mixed Reality described in detail that Zappy’s Playground is a cross-platform developer sample that showcases how to create intuitive and comprehensive end-to-end experiences for mixed reality. He also demonstrated how companies work together and explained to the audience that it was the starter project for MR development. In this session, he discussed all the features of Zappy’s Playground such as data binding, spatial audio, hand constraint palm up, directional indicators, UI follow azure spatial anchors, gaze, scene understanding, near and far interactions, UX controls, surface magnetism, and themes.

Max Wang, Microsoft Software Engineer and David Kline Microsoft Senior Software Engineer explained the architecture and the foundations of the MRTK. I learned that the Unity XR interaction toolkit built on the Unity input systems and XR interaction toolkit is an independent subsystem ready for enterprise scale, and it provides cross-platform support. They discussed how a user can import the MRTK3 to their Unity project and performed each step in front of an audience so we could better understand it. It was the first time I learned how to export the MRTK3 to our Unity project and use their features as well.

Where Is Mixed Reality Headed?

Even after all these fantastic sessions, there were still areas that, as an junior software engineer new to this space, I was confused about. There was a lot of discussion about the Hack-a-thon throughout the conference, but I was unsure what that was all about. Additionally, when they talked about Azure App consults, they went too fast for me to fully grasp what they were saying. I also did not understand much of the information about the HoloLens, the technology, and how it’s used. These are subjects I’m researching and talking to our team about now.

I would definitely attend this conference again because every speaker has a ton of knowledge that was very useful. The conference was well managed, but it was 6 hours and 30 minutes long, which is a stretch attending digitally. Also, the participants who attended the conference in person were able to ask questions of the speakers directly (as mentioned, I joined remotely so I wasn’t able to ask questions). I would have liked to have asked some questions on a few of the more complicated topics I’m now looking into, but overall it was the best conference I’ve attended in my career from a knowledge gained point of view.