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Taqtile co-founder Dirck Schou and vice presient of product management Kelly Malone take me through their new HoloMaps application. Credit: Taqtile.
Taqtile co-founder Dirck Schou and Vice President of Product Management Kelly Malone take me through their new HoloMaps application. Credit: Taqtile.

Seattle-based Taqtile has developed a new interactive and collaborative 3D maps app for Microsoft’s HoloLens and other virtual and mixed reality headsets — blending the physical and digital worlds for a variety of interesting and practical uses.

Unveiled at the Smart City Expo in Spain this week, Taqtile’s new HoloMaps program renders cityscapes, forests and many other types of areas and landscapes using Bing 3D, and allows multiple people to view and play around with maps at the same time.

On a consumer basis, the app is only being released for HoloLens right now, through the Microsoft Store, but the enterprise version also works on other headsets such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Additionally, people using different devices can still participate in the same collaboration session. Right now, the HoloLens version of the product sports a few more capabilities, such as voice searching, though Taqtile is continuing to work on and add to all versions of the product.

GeekWire got a chance to demo the new application at Taqtile’s Seattle office last week. Our demo was HoloLens-centric with a little bit of Vive thrown in. That makes sense, given that Taqtile is one of seven firms in Microsoft’s HoloLens Agency Readiness Program, and Kelly Malone, the company’s vice president of product management spent more than 10 years at Microsoft.

In our session, Malone effortlessly manipulated the maps, rotating and zooming as he pleased and switching to different locations via voice command. We started in downtown Seattle, where traffic was snarled on Friday afternoon (go figure) due to an accident that showed up on the map. From there we went to the Space Needle and then started traveling the globe, visiting Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Niagara Falls and Torrey Pines Golf Course.

Here is a portion of my visit, captured by Taqtile:

It was a cool experience to look down on the Seattle skyline and be as tall as the Space Needle. The images were not of the highest resolution but were clear enough to tell what everything was. That is a result of running the program on the headset. Using a tethered PC, as is the case with the Vive and the Rift, allows images to be displayed at a much higher quality.

A variety of data can be laid over the 3D maps. The options we saw included traffic conditions, location-tagged tweets and weather forecasts for the areas displayed on the map. Users can also draw and write notes on maps that can be saved for later use. Businesses can bring in their own information and Taqtile will work with them to integrate it into maps.

“The concept for this whole platform is to make it very easy for customers to bring in whatever sort of data sources they want to overlay on top of this,” said Dirck Schou, co-founder of Taqtile.

Futuristic apps like this are a blast to play with, but they also represent a less exciting, but definitely practical, innovation for the business community: the evolution of working collaboratively. Meetings gave way to calls and eventually services like Skype. This is the next step in that progression.

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Taqtile’s first maps customer was the PGA Tour. GeekWire got a chance to demo the PGA Tour app earlier this year, which lets folks interact with 3D models of different holes overlaid with a bevy of statistics. The bootstrapped firm is also building a HoloLens app for Real Madrid, which inked a four-year partnership with Microsoft in 2015.

Malone said Taqtile is in active discussions with a couple of sports teams to use the app to display stadium remodel plans for the public and also use it as a sales tool for potential sponsors. It’s no surprise that Taqtile is emphasizing sports early on, as the company spent its early years building sports and venue related apps. But the company has grown to approximately 90 people in six offices around the world in places like Brazil and Belarus. With that growth, Schou and Malone envision many uses that go beyond sports.

“The list of different things you can integrate is somewhat endless,” Malone said.

In an emergency situation like a terrorist attack, or something less severe, like a traffic backup, representatives from different agencies could join each other in a virtual command center and figure out the best escape routes. Annotating streets and other sites could be useful for public works projects, allowing workers in the field to compare notes with people at the office. In the legal world, Schou said, the product could be used to recreate crime scenes and bring them into the courtroom.

Malone and Schou said they are talking to security agencies about using the maps to build plans for big events like the Super Bowl. The maps can be used to look at points of interest in a stadium and figure out things like line-of-sight for the best places to station security personnel.

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Taqtile recognizes that not everyone is going to have a HoloLens or a virtual reality headset in every situation. To that end, maps can be captured, via the camera on a HoloLens device, or a stabilized camera hooked up to a headset, and projected onto a screen. That could be useful in the case of a public meeting, where, for example, a municipality might want to show what a rezoned neighborhood looks like, or how a power company putting in new lines might affect an area.

The biggest challenge for Taqtile, as well as other companies building apps and experiences for virtual and mixed reality, is the devices themselves. These devices are spendy, and there are still some kinks to work out. HoloLens isn’t even widely available yet, and the developer edition runs $3,000. The HTC Vive, which is available publicly, runs for $799. There are cheaper alternatives out there as well, but the reality — at least for now — is that not everyone can afford one. But Schou says it’s still early for virtual/mixed/augmented reality, and devices will get better and cheaper over time.

“This is a V1 device, what you are seeing is V1, and it’s able to do this, imagine what the next version is going to be,” Malone said. “It’s probably going to be lighter, smaller, and it’s probably going to actually be much higher quality.”

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