HoloLens: Microsoft’s augmented reality project

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The way Microsoft sees the future of computers goes one step forward, blending your digital world with your real world. Technology is already all around us, in every aspect of our day-to-day lives; but now, the company wants to definitely break down the walls between technology and people.

To achieve this ambitious goal, Microsoft unveiled the Windows Holographic experience during the event to present Windows 10 last January. Windows Holographic experience will arrive through a headset device called HoloLens. HoloLens is a stand-alone augmented reality (AR) headset, able to project computer generated objects into your real-world environment. The company claims that HoloLens is the first fully untethered, see-through holographic computer. It enables high-definition holograms to come to life in your world, seamlessly integrating with your physical places and things. Microsoft called this experience mixed reality. The device will be a computer with CPU, GPU, sensors and an HD screen that users will wear like virtual reality glasses.

After Google Glass and Mark Zuckerberg’s recent plans to immerse Facebook users into 3D videos through Oculus virtual reality headset, the future of computers seems to be beyond the screen.

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What will we be able to do with HoloLens?

What HoloLens will basically do is transform your world with holograms. It will understand the user’s environment and provide a fully immersive virtual reality experience. Among others, it will allow users to interact with holographic images, play completely immersive videogames and build 3D models. As a result, you will experience new ways to visualize your work, to play or to create whatever you imagine.

HoloLens will superimpose holograms on your surroundings so you can interact with them. The device will apparently use an array of motion senses, as well as a Kinect-style camera to identify the surroundings and to know where the wearer is in the room. It will also be able to recognise objects and it will work with gesture and voice controls. Of course, everything will be autonomous and wireless.

Microsoft’s next-generation technology will be enabled by Windows 10 and there’s already a program named HoloStudio to create experiences and apps. HoloStudio will even let you turn your holograms into physical objects thanks to 3D printing. Windows 10 is the first platform to support holographic computing with APIs that enable gaze, gesture, voice, and environmental understanding on an untethered device.

What do developers think?

On the one hand, experienced developers think that for a prototype it certainly seems like Microsoft has done a very good job on producing the illusion of a solid object appearing before you. The tracking seems to be excellent too. Nevertheless, one of the main troubles the company will have to solve is the “transparency” issue, or in other words, that images appear solid rather than ghostly before your eyes.

While virtual reality (VR) is extremely processing intensive, requiring a lot of CPU and GPU power, augmented reality (AR) can be done with lighter hardware. Plus, opposite to VR, AR can be a social experience. AR also makes it easier to deal with issues such as motion sickness by keeping real reference points in view, so developers may enjoy more freedom as creators.

HoloLens seems a natural extension of Microsoft’s Kinect, but now they have to learn from their mistakes and ensure the software is there to justify the existence of the hardware.

On the other hand, this is a technology that still needs some years to work totally correctly, to provide the perfect and amazing experience they promise. Other of the cons is players will want some kind of feedback, so developers will have to work especially hard compensating with visual and audio clues. Also, users with movement difficulties may struggle with applications that only use just gesture control. Finally, each user’s real scenario will determinate the results: an user may not have the space to move at all if he lives in a small apartment, and different real world lighting, materials or colours can affect the art style of the holograms.

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Conclusions

We can already imagine a world of possibilities for HoloLens: commanding tiny armies on your living room, playing with characters like if they were right in front of you, become a part of Mario Bros’ universe, build Minecraft worlds on your table, speak via Skype as if your interlocutor was there, create an object and instantly materialize it before your eyes… There’s undoubtedly huge potential in HoloLens for gaming, engineering, planners, designers or architects. Wouldn’t it be magical to have all that in your own room?

As for now, HoloLens demos and videos look quite amazing, just like a sci-fi movie. The question is: will it be so great when the project finally comes to life? Microsoft still has a lot of challenges to think about; tons of issues will come through and the company will definitely need to deal with them and find solutions. If they make it, HoloLens can become a very, very appealing reality.

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