Unless you don’t pay attention to technology news, you probably already know that Microsoft announced its HoloLens last week.
At first look, most people look at the device and think that it’s a cool device that does not have much practical use.
To start, I have to say with this piece of technology, Microsoft has taken a very bold step beyond Google Glass and even virtual reality devices such as the Oculus Rift.
Google Glass is basically just another screen, but unlike other screens it sits right in front of your eye.
The Oculus Rift, on the other hand, is an immersive device that completely masks your eyes from the real world and visually puts you into a virtual world. The HoloLens, instead, takes computing to another realm entirely.
It takes you to the realm of augmented reality, where the world around you, otherwise known as your reality, is augmented visually through the introduction of virtual objects that are tracked by the software and virtually exist in your own world. Although technically Google Glass can be considered an augmented reality device, it does not offer the capabilities that make the HoloLens concept so special.
Now that you’ve been introduced to this concept of augmented reality, you’re probably wondering why you should care.
The reveal video for the device showed a bunch of scenarios for use of the device. They included having virtual screens for communication, being able to have “holographic” models that you can work on, and even having virtual Minecraft that uses your living room as a baseline. These are just some examples of things that an augmented reality device like the HoloLens can provide you with.
The first and most basic of the applications of the HoloLens would be to view static content much like you would on a Google Glass or a television. Even though this is a pretty basic application, HoloLens can make it more intelligent by having the screen exist in space that the headset will track and allow you to see based on where you are looking rather than just having the content sit statically in the same place in front of your eyes like Google Glass does.
The next use of the augmented reality device would be to use “holograms.” I put that in quotes because I don’t really think what HoloLens provides are holograms in the way that I have viewed them for most of my life since they only exist within the confines of the device’s visor. Whether they are technically holograms or not, the constructs that the HoloLens incorporates into the user’s world are quite amazing.
The software on the device maps a room to control the “hologram” and anchors it to the confines of that space. The technology is quite amazing when you think about what would go into mapping the room and keeping track of all the variables as well as constructing the hologram to be in the same place constantly based off of the variables of motion and eye movement by the user. The fact that all of this works is quite awesome.
I am going to leave that tangent and get back on the topic of what can be done with those holograms. The holograms that are constructed by the HoloLens can be used in education from teaching elementary school students about planets to teaching professionals about how to operate specific equipment.
It could also be used to help pre-med students practice working with the insides of a body before they get the med school and start working with actual bodies. Obviously, the effectiveness of the training depends on the detail of the 3D models that are constructed to be used by the HoloLens.
The possibilities of how you can use these holograms are endless and only limited by the human imagination. The application of the HoloLens that gets me most excited is gaming.
If you think virtual reality gaming, where you are immersed into a virtual world, is awesome, then think about what happens when the game enters your world.
Augmented reality gaming would be insanely awesome.
Imagine you are playing Halo and the Heads-Up-Display showing your ammo, health and radar are in front of your actual eyes, while holograms of aliens are planted into your kitchen moving around the counter. It would probably be more fun to play the game in a virtual world, which was created by a map designer, but it would be great to be able to play a game using your own house as the map.
Fortunately for those of you who prefer the virtual reality that is provided by an Oculus Rift, there’s good news.
Depending on whether the visor covers the complete vision of the user or not, the software could be written to have the screen give immersive visuals like the Oculus Rift.
The ability to have augmented reality and virtual reality games run on the HoloLens along with possible support for Xbox would be a great move by Microsoft to compete with project Morpheus which is the upcoming virtual reality accessory for the Sony PS4.
Now that we have discussed the possible capabilities of an augmented reality device, let us discuss some of the possible drawbacks that could exist.
Just as I said before, many reactions from people that I have heard concern the needlessness of this device. To a lot of people, it seems like a novelty that is only going to be an option for the super wealthy or people willing to spend a lot on the latest tech. There is no word on what the HoloLens will cost, but I believe it will need to be around the cost of an Oculus Rift in order for it to have a chance. I don’t think most people will be willing to buy the HoloLens if it costs more than $500.
Along with the price, skeptics are weary on whether the device will run as smoothly as advertised. To be honest one of the first thoughts in my mind after I saw the PR video was doubt that the device could run it as well as the video demonstrated. The CGI of the Minecraft world in a living room seemed way too good to be true, and for the first version of the HoloLens, it probably is. The important thing is now that the technology is announced, hopefully it will be able to evolve to the point where it performs to the level shown in the PR video.
If you were a skeptic of the HoloLens, I hope this blog has gotten you at least a little excited about the idea of augmented reality devices, if not completely changed your mind.
Even if this first iteration of HoloLens is not capable of delivering on the features of augmented reality that excited you, I do not doubt that there will be more iterations by Microsoft, if not any new competitors that get inspired by the unveiling of this device.