There are plenty of reasons to turn off your camera during a Zoom or Teams meeting – maybe you’re cleaning your office and you don’t want to look like you’re not paying attention, or your child is climbing all over you, or you just haven’t gotten around to showering yet, and you don’t want to show your co-workers how disheveled you are.
For people who want to split the difference between appearing on the camera and turning it off, Microsoft will add animated 3D avatars to Microsoft Teams in May, according to Microsoft’s product roadmap. The 3D avatars are part of “Mesh,” an initiative Microsoft announced back in late 2021 when the “metaverse” hype had reached a fever pitch. As originally envisioned, Mesh will not only include 3D Teams avatars, but virtual workspaces accessible via VR, allowing people who work remotely to experience the joy of sitting in a conference room while someone drones on in front of a PowerPoint deck .
The roadmap update doesn’t include a full list of features, but previous announcements about Mesh for Teams have shown avatars with custom body types, skin tones, hair colors and hairstyles, clothing, and facial features. Microsoft said in late 2021 that the first versions of these avatars would only animate when users spoke, but eventually the company wants them to be able to mimic users’ real facial expressions and movements, as captured by their webcams.
Mesh for Teams was originally supposed to roll out in 2022, but layoffs at Microsoft, a general cooling of interest in all things Metaverse, and workers gradually returning to offices could all have pushed those plans back. Microsoft is also in the midst of a company-wide push to include AI capabilities in all of its products, which could have bumped Mesh down a spot or two on the priority list.