KAZENDI: CHANGING THE WAY WE LIVE, WORK AND PLAY
Founded in September 2014 as a rapid prototyping company, Kazendi worked with enterprise clients to create prototypes quickly and effectively as tests for new technologies such as Google Glass or the Amazon Echo. In September 2016 the company transitioned to focus fully on Mixed Reality (MR) technology and the Microsoft HoloLens, described as the most powerful MR device on the market.
“We were one of the first studios in Europe to focus exclusively on MR and the decision was made from seeing its huge potential, as well wanting to be one of the early movers in this ecosystem. We adopt the same ‘prototyping’ mentality with new projects, working closely with clients to create beneficial MR use case prototypes that can then be scaled out.”
– Matthew Bumford, Head of Marketing Kazendi
In November 2017 Kazendi decided to focus on creating its own product, HoloMeeting, which is currently being developed alongside other bespoke MR applications. Headquartered in London, the company is an official Microsoft Mixed Reality partner.
HoloMeeting: how does it work?
Working to create bespoke experiences for a wide range of clients across a range of different sectors, the team at Kazendi quickly became aware of one repeated request – to create an application to facilitate meetings through the HoloLens. It was also, explains Matthew, a company need for Kazendi.
“Today we have team members around the world and it’s often necessary to fly staff into our London base for meetings. But we wanted to come up with a way to let groups engage without flying everyone into London every three months.”
The objective was to create an integrated meeting space that was not specific to any one industry, as the uses of the application are wide-ranging. The early adopters of HoloMeeting include one of London’s biggest architectural firms, an international drinks brand, as well as companies in construction and manufacturing.
HoloMeeting: what’s the technology?
HoloMeeting is a meeting/conferencing solution that uses Microsoft HoloLens holographic technology to allow participants to meet from remote locations, interact with 3D models and 2D documents, and collaborate by manipulating a shared space that contains the shared content. The concept operates with four core features; real-time collaboration with context, the gaze input, spatial sound and the freehand draw tool.
Real-time collaboration with context means that each individual in the meeting is able to see a large boxed area known as the shared workspace. “When we started to create the space, we quickly realised we needed a focus point for users when they entered it,” explains Matthew. “The HoloLens allowed us to place a centralised structure into this environment – in other words, a meeting table.”
Whatever is shared in the workplace becomes visible to everyone else in the meeting, which immediately increases the immersive and collaborative potential of these holographic meetings. And the space is not just for 3D models, flat documents such as PDFs and presentations can also be shared in the space. Everyone at the meeting can manipulate and interact with these workspace objects but once they are taken out, only the host can access them, giving the meeting a degree of control and direction.
The second core feature, the laser gaze input allows for meeting participants to move around the shared workspace and identify where the others are looking. When an individual dials in to a meeting, they are represented by a floating HoloLens avatar that moves as they do, so everybody is aware where others are in the space. With this technology, the meeting becomes more immersive and collaborative as participants can move around to view models, prototypes, charts, visualisations, documents and more from a range of angles to enhance the working experience.
Furthermore, as HoloMeeting syncs directly with Microsoft OneDrive, there is an added degree of personalisation to meetings. Each participant’s holographic avatar can be personalised to look like them using a simple 3D scan. This, coupled with the gaze input, has been designed to encourage increased immersion so a HoloMeeting ‘feels’ as close to a real meeting as possible.
This feeling of immersion is further supported by the audio features in HoloMeeting. As people move, the sounds around the room vary and the technology’s spatial sound feature maps this perfectly. As other members of the meeting move around the shared space, the direction from which they are heard will also change. “If somebody is speaking on your left, the audio comes from your left – just like in an actual meeting,” describes Matthew. “Everybody in the meeting has their own voice path through the HoloLens.” This also means that if multiple people talk at once, participants can still identify the conversations in various parts of the room, rather than having a central blast of noise.”
“We intend to utilise the sound features of the HoloLens even further,” Matthew explains “as each user has their own headset, we will be able to automatically record meetings in the future. This will enable meetings to become searchable, adding new levels of transparency for enterprise customers.”
The final ‘core’ feature of HoloMeeting is the freehand draw tool; this feature entices users to interact with objects within the shared space by being able to draw holographically on to shared objects. “All users have the ability to grab a holographic pen and draw,” adds Matthew, “meaning designers and collaborators have increased degrees of clarity about what is being discussed within the space.”
A recent addition to the HoloMeeting application has been the live feed feature which enables the meeting participants to see each other’s viewpoint. This allows HoloMeeting to expand beyond the virtual space and into the real, adding an additional level of depth and potential to the application with possible potential uses for remote repair or training scenarios.
HoloMeeting: challenges and feedback
The main challenge was that this had never been done before, explains Matthew and so the team had no template to work from. “We had to decide ourselves how it would work and how we would build it to get the best use out of the technology. And of course, we needed to build something that would work well and be easy to use.”
The technology has been warmly welcomed by the publication World Architecture News, which says: “This will improve engagement and vastly improves how we interpret information while eliminating the barriers that occur when offices are in multiple international locations.”
HoloLens: the Rémy Martin experience
In addition to developing its own products, Kazendi also works with brands around the world to build bespoke experiences using the HoloLens across a range of industry segments. The innovative Rooted in Exception experience created for drinks company Rémy Martin, for example, was the first MR experience for a global consumer brand on the HoloLens.
“To us, Mixed Reality is an amazing opportunity for storytelling. How better could we reveal our roots, our chalk, our exception, than by quite literally raising it out of the ground, for our clients to see, and be convinced about Rémy Martin thanks to the breath-taking HoloLens technology.”
– Augustin Depardon, Rémy Martin Global Executive Director
What is the experience?
The Rémy Martin Rooted in Exception experience explores the brand’s Cognac Fine Champagne legacy. As one of the biggest Cognac houses in France, they insist on only using eaux-de-vie from grapes grown exclusively in Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne.
For such a prestige brand, the experience needed to have the wow factor, as well as being engaging, entertaining and educational. The app size was reduced so that the field of view covered most of the elements. An audio track was also incorporated to increase user immersion. And with its collaborative functionality, the experience was designed so that four users can share the experience together, allowing for groups of consumers to participate in public settings, pop-ups and points of sales.
Accompanied by the voice of Baptiste Loiseau, the Cellar Master of the House, the user approaches a 3D table with topographical design and a stylised map of France. The user then discovers the processes that create Cognac Fine Champagne, such as the region’s weather conditions, and the complex flavour notes of the champagne’s essence, Rémy Martin XO, are finally then revealed.
The experience received its world premiere in Los Angeles in July 2017 and was quickly rolled out around the world in the following months, travelling to Mexico, China, UK, France, Singapore.
“With an experience like this, creating scale is key,” reveals Matthew. “We are still working with the client on this project. It is not something that has just one application, it can be scaled easily for different audiences.”
Coping with the challenges
Creating a brand experience that works well in a live event will not necessarily work in the same way through the HoloLens, reveals Matthew. And while the team at Rémy Martin had very specific ideas about what they wanted, some of them could not be achieved in the technology. “At that point, it becomes about educating the client as to what is and what isn’t possible, and for that you need a very good process of communication and specific feedback on each stage of the project.”
The time designated for the experience was originally problematic. “It was set for three minutes but in this time we would also have to get the user set up and teach them how to use the technology,” says Matt. “As a solution, it was decided to make the experience as an immersive video using the HoloLens controls so that the Rémy Martin team could lead the user and make it engaging for them.”
Getting the design right was also key to the process, it was all about the smell, touch, feel and taste of the Cognac, so it was very immersive in ways other experiences wouldn’t be, explains Matt. There were technical issues around the design, as it is very difficult to render glass or reflections in the HoloLens – most holograms are flat or transparent. To resolve the issue, a 3D artist was hired to balance the programming demands with the visuals. And so a perfect model of a Rémy Martin bottle was created, which was a breakthrough in terms of what had been achieved before with this technology.
“We’re very proud of what we have achieved with Rémy Martin,” adds Matt. “The outcome really is a testament, not only to our process and our commitment to Mixed Reality but also what the HoloLens can achieve.”
Kazendi: looking to the future
Matthew believes that the growth potential for the Microsoft HoloLens is huge, particularly as the product becomes smaller, cheaper and more accommodating to use, for example when it ultimately reduces in size from the headset we see today to a compact and light pair of glasses.
He also pointed out that, currently, Mixed Reality extends beyond the HoloLens too with Microsoft heavily investing in its occluded Mixed Reality headsets, a hardware also supported by HoloMeeting.
“We understand that there are a wide range of enterprise needs and requirements for MR, not least of all the relative cost to roll out multiple HoloLens users. By supporting the wider Mixed Reality exosystem with HoloMeeting we aim to give businesses options and flexibility when incorporating the application into their processes.”
And looking into that future, he believes that the company’s bespoke products, including HoloMeeting, will ultimately change the way we live, interact and work in the years to come. It will have an impact on business travel for example, as the need for companies to fly teams around the world for meetings will be reduced.
He also sees the technology moving from the office to the home, for example when children are away at university, HoloMeeting provides a way of the whole family interacting that is much more immersive than a phone or Skype call.
“The potential of the HoloLens is only just being realised. As more individuals and companies begin to explore what it can do in terms of changing the way they work and as the general infrastructure grows, it will only become better. It’s an exciting time to be involved. We look forward to seeing how HoloMeeting becomes a part of this.”
Words: Bernadette Fallon