The reality of Microsofts surprise augmented reality system is that it is something special, extraordinary even. Following Microsofts ballsy one more thing presentation on Wednesday, the company gave me an impressive series of hands-on and up-close experiences with HoloLens. As a result, I have no images or Vines beyond what Microsoft provided in media kits and what I could gather during the original public presentation.
Remember that slate gray, polished-looking headset you saw during the Microsoft livestream? Forget it. To get the full, or at least best possible, experience with HoloLens right now, I had to use something that resembled a skinned HoloLens. Instead of a polished gray exterior, the dev unit I wore had its guts exposed and was tethered to an external power source. The new holographic processing unit hung in a separate pack from a strap around my neck.
NASA JPL’s representation of how the OnSite Mars Curiosity app will look when multiple scientist where HoloLens headsets and work together.
The HoloLens software uses all the actual imagery Curiosity has collected and then renders it in three dimensions. To help illustrate the impact this could have on scientific exploration of these images and the data collected by Curiosity, the Microsoft technician had me walk over to a computer. I was still wearing HoloLens, but when I looked at the computer through the visor, which meant I was looking through the semi-transparent stereo displays, I could see the computer screen, keyboard and mouse perfectly. HoloLens was smart enough to cut out the Mars augmented reality around the computer.
Microsoft and JPL envision a world in which multiple scientists wear HoloLens headsets and collaborate in augmented reality. During my demo, a JPL scientist joined me in my Mars excursion and, to be honest, his avatar, which appeared just up the virtual hill from me, looked like an androgynous, gold Martian.
HoloLens is a Windows 10 device and, according to Microsoft, should integrate smoothly with some of their other Windows 10 apps and services, including Skype.
For my second and almost equally impressive demo, I made a Skype call with a Microsoft representative who used HoloLens to help me replace a wall switch. After they put the headset back on my head and tightened it just enough to make my eyes bulge, I made a Skype call through HoloLens. A 3D-enhanced version of the app appeared in front of my face, I looked at the profile picture for a woman named Alice in the contact list, used an air tap gesture and initiated the call. Alice appeared in front of me in a floating call box and offered to help me.
While her call screen followed me wherever I looked, I was able to pin it to a virtual spot just above my gaze; I could look up to see her (I could always hear her). On her side, Alice could see everything I looked at and was able to guide me by drawing in the virtual space in front of me. She could draw illustrations, arrows or circle things she wanted me to pick up.
The augmented-reality headgear is full of sensors, but the most powerful one may be the 3D depth sensor. It’s the same one you’ll find in the Kinect and it is capable of building a detailed 3D mesh map of a room and everything in it. Once HoloLens knows what’s in the room, it can essentially drape 3D imagery over it so that it looks as if the digital objects and textures are part of the same environment as real world walls and furniture.
Throughout all of my demos, I could walk around these rooms without bumping into something or growing disoriented, mainly because I could always see the real and virtual environments at the same time. Instead of detracting from the experience, it finally made virtual reality practical.
We watched as he built a couple of 3D characters using gestures, air tap and his voice. Everything he built could be placed in the augmented reality environment and printed out on 3D printers. I took note of the cool-looking, 3D-printed Star Wars X-Wing, which he had reportedly built in HoloStudio in an hour and a half.
Google encouraged Google Glass Explorers to wear the head-mounted device everywhere. When HoloLens arrives later this year, don’t expect to see it out in the wild. It’ll live in companies, industry, living rooms and game rooms. That may help HoloLens avoid Glass’s fate. People who can afford what most expect to be a nearly $1,000 price tag won’t be labeled snobs because no one will see them walking through the airport wearing one.
It may be a little early to pass judgment, but my dev-stage experience has convinced me of one thing: there has never been anything quite like HoloLens and that is most definitely a good thing. Read more…