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Holo be thy name: is HoloLens the future of augmented reality?


Image of HoloLens device
Image of HoloLens device

At the Windows 10 event last week, Microsoft unveiled a surprising new product – HoloLens. This augmented reality (AR) headset promises to transform the way we interact with computers, with the software giant boldly claiming: “this is the next generation of computing; this is the next PC.”  

HoloLens is a head mounted display designed to overlay images onto the real world. While the concept of augmented realityAR is nothing new, implementations of this on wearable devices have failed to excite us – until now. 

Microsoft demoed several applications showing concepts including virtual screens appearing on walls and a 3D game spilling off a coffee table. The demos in the promo video are impressive, but is the technology really out there? And what could this mean for enterprise customers? 

Microsoft has a track record of delivering the seemingly impossible. The Xbox Kinect for example, looked implausible at first, but now sits in homes all over the world. The HoloLens is equipped with the same depth sensing camera technology found in the Kinect, allowing it to map your surroundings  to accurately overlay ‘holograms’ in real time – all driven by substantial processing power, including the first-of-its-kind ‘Holographic Processing Unit’. This shows the device is technically plausible if they can master the display tech, and from some of the media reports it looks like the may have cracked it. 

After Google’s recent announcement to end the Glass Explorer programmes, lots of commentators have been comparing HoloLens to Glass. While the comparison is inevitable, it’s important to highlight the two devices were developed with very different purposes. Glass is designed to be worn all day, provide context sensitive information and only be used for micro-interactions (ideally less than one minute). HoloLens, meanwhile, is all about AR. It’s built for immersive interactions and you would interact with it continually for a specific task, but not for prolonged periods, especially as it is unlikely the device will function outside. 

Application of AR in industry 

Regardless of industry sector, AR seems to have numerous applications that get people excited.  The topic of remote assistance is one that comes up repeatedly. Whether it’s a field service engineer repairing a boiler, or a surgeon doing a heart transplant, the ability to have a remote expert monitor actions and overlay relevant information is compelling. 

With its environment mapping technology it could be used for accurate indoor navigation by highlighting the right route for the wearer to take around a warehouse, supermarket or airport. It could point out the exact position of their destination, such as a fuse box, or even detect any issues and alert the user immediately.

Another key use case for the device is 3D visualisation of designs. This could be used to transform your surroundings to mimic another environment or another planet altogether. This could be a fantastic tool for showing what a room could look like, ideal for interior decorators, estate agents or architects.

The scope with hardware like this is huge and it won’t be long before we are seeing some really innovative ways to interact with our computers, bringing us one step closer to the Iron Man style interface I’ve always dreamed of. 

It’s unclear when HoloLens will arrive, but they have promised the device within the Windows 10 timeframe. Windows 10 is expected to hit the shelves in the autumn and it’s likely the Holo Studio (the tool to create holographic apps) will arrive alongside it. The best guess for the device itself is towards the end of 2015 or early 2016. We’ll be waiting with baited breath to find out what this fascinating device can offer and if it lives up to the hype.

To be inspired about by the possibilities of wearable technology, take a look at some of our work.

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