For the longest time, hologram technology was something we associated with science fiction movies and video games. Who can forget the first time they saw 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope and its iconic opening scene where Princess Leia asks Obi-Wan Kenobi for help.

Holographic technology is a virtual 3D render using beams of light, of individuals that are alive or from the past that you can see or interact with to manipulate images, maps and charts.

We have since seen it being used in other ways such as to resurrect dead artists like Tupac and ham him performing at Coachella, fashion shows in New York. It’s also been used by surgeons who work with X-rays or CT scans in real-time while performing an operation.

Recently, journalists experienced hologram technology first hand, outside of the science fiction world, at Cisco’s laboratories in Norway.

Webex Hologram is Cisco’s next-generation hybrid work collaboration tool that claims to be the industry’s only real-time meeting solution that leverages augmented reality headsets to combine feature rich Webex meeting functionality with immersive 3D holograms. It provides a “one to many” presenter experience so participants can dial in remotely.

It is a software that uses immersive technologies, lets you share physical and digital content, offers a multi-dimensional experience, and most importantly, it is headset agnostic. It is compatible with AR headsets like Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap.

I experienced Webex Hologram with a Microsoft HoloLens 2 at Cisco’s laboratories very briefly. The quick demo involved interacting with cartoon characters Tom and Jerry.

As with all new tech, it took a while to set up. It involved using my fingers to access menu items virtually in front of me. I could tap, pinch to zoom, grip and drag using my index finger and thumb.

It felt natural to interact with what was in front of me, based on my previous experiences with VR. You need to look all around you for objects or menus that could be either to the right, left, up or down, and not just in front of you.

Snorre Kjesbu, senior vice-president and general manager of Webex Devices, says making holograms useful in a business environment is not about creating a Jedi Council, jokingly adding that we did not need to see him in three dimensions.

“As soon as we start discussing objects, this becomes very interesting. Imagine if you can’t travel or don’t want to travel but want to cut time between a production facility and a design facility. What if you could come into this place?”

Kjesbu says Webex Hologram combines 2D and 3D, and when you have a conference, you simply put the glasses on, and you can all discuss an object. “As soon as you do that, you’ve created something super useful.”

The company says Webex Hologram represents its step towards delivering a work experience so seamless that there is no gap between virtual and in-person collaboration.

Earlier this year, the McLaren Formula 1 racing team announced an extended partnership with Webex by Cisco, who are now an official technology partner to the F1 team from 2022.

Cisco will provide McLaren with access to solutions like enterprise networking, WiFi, digital signage, and collaboration, but also pilot new and emerging tech to aid reliable connectivity on race days and its headquarters.

“Imagine they’re out there racing, but the engineers back in the workshop are designing a new part; you can hold up that part and look at it from all angles, and you can combine that physical part with a 3D representation of the same type of object — then it starts getting interesting,” said Kjesbu.

Earlier this year, the McLaren Formula 1 racing team announced an extended partnership with Webex by Cisco, who are now an official technology partner to the F1 team from 2022.

McLaren, known for incorporating innovation as part of its business, will be using Cisco’s AR holographic solutions to speed up its design process and decision making through real-time feedback and collaboration between designers and engineers at its headquarters and onsite pit crews.

Kjesbu said the company saw an opportunity to make 3D holograms useful today. It can be used for companies making sneakers, handbags or engineering objects.

Kjesbu added that collaborating digitally is key to hybrid working conditions. “One of our key tools is digital collaboration — to have the ability to whiteboard and ideate even when people are remote. That was a luxury resource, now it’s a requirement.”

Hybrid work is both different and more difficult than before, because there have been some shifts in the office, he said. “It used to be a place where we came to work. Now people come into the office when you’re going to meet and collaborate.”

“During Covid, we were able to execute, and companies were able to execute incredibly well, but there were casualties and one of them was around innovation. How do you get innovation if you schedule that you are going to be innovative on Fridays between 10 and 11?”

Hybrid work needs to be reimagined, says Kjesbu. “You must be able to collaborate at any location, it has to be interoperable, you must be able to join through any meeting platform, and the software must promote equity and inclusion, so everyone is on the same level.”

The Cisco Webex app works on Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android, including the ability to access its background noise removal feature. A new partnership with Microsoft announced in October allows MS Teams to run natively on Cisco’s Room and Desk.

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