Hands-on with Microsoft HoloLens: The hologram goggles seem unfinished, but …

24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A closer look at Microsoft’s HoloLens: Getting things done in a 3D world.

Microsoft Corporation didn’t use skydivers or stunt cyclists to introduce what it hopes will be the next big leap in computing technology. Microsoft’s Windows 10 launch event saw the launch of Windows HoloLens and the HoloLens headset, which are some of the most intriguing products the company has unveiled in the recent past.In this photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, Microsoft’s Lorraine Bardeen demonstrates a hologram device as what she “sees” is projected on a screen behind during an event at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Windows 10 wasn’t the biggest news Microsoft announced this week. Instead, with its new HoloLens headset, the company is offering real-world examples to show how you might use three-dimensional digital images – or holograms – in daily life.

The Windows HoloLens is similar to an augmented reality experience (the kind many apps on smartphones aim to give) except that this is much more advanced, because users can wear a headset, like Virtual Reality goggles, to experience holograms in real life. The clip, posted on YouTube and shown above, shows a man playing Minecraft, its landscapes and buildings painted across the vertical and horizontal surfaces of a living room. I got a brief peek at what wearing the HoloLens could be like in different scenarios: performing a simple home repair, pretending to be a scientist studying the surface of Mars and exploring a colorful, animated game that added new dimensions to an unremarkable room. Microsoft HoloLens allows you to pin holograms in your physical environment and provides a new way to see your world. * Microsoft HoloLens features see-through, holographic, high-definition lenses and spatial sound so you can see and hear holograms in the world around you. Microsoft says these holograms will transform your digital content (a say a picture or a graph or a game you’ve been playing) into real, physical objects in the room which you can physically interact with.

Or work: “Imagine an architect walking around their designs,” said Alex Kipman, the man responsible for the project at Microsoft, when introducing Windows Holographic. In fact, Microsoft has also found the first adopters for the HoloLens: Scientists at NASA, who the company says will use HoloLens to explore Mars using images captured by the Mars Curiosity Rover. Last week, it suspended consumer sales after many people balked at the notion of wearing a digital camera and Internet-connected device on their head. While immersed in a virtual world, users are best advised to stay seated or keep still to avoid collisions with physical objects they cannot see in the real world. * What does it mean to have holograms on Windows 10? Windows 10 is the first platform to support holographic computing with APIs that enable gesture and environmental understanding on an untethered device.

More than five years ago at a big games conference, Microsoft revealed the technology that it eventually named Kinect, a device that used cameras and other sensors to let people play games with gestures and voice. Samsung and Oculus VR – which Facebook bought for $2 billion last year – are developing gaming headsets that essentially block the wearer’s view and replace it with an imaginary world. According to Microsoft’s official page on the HoloLens, the headset doesn’t require cords, wires or phones or tethers, has a transparent lens and advanced sensors, has built in spatial sounds, and is powered by Windows 10. There is a see-through visor to let you see what’s in front of you, there’s spatial sound to hear holograms behind you and a bunch of other sensors which will work in tandem. Seeing the technology for the first time, the director Steven Spielberg said, felt like “an historic moment, a moment as significant as the transformation from the square-shaped movie screen to Cinemascope, and then to IMAX.” That device, too, was unfinished, along with the games that were supposed to exploit it.

As this Engadget piece notes, based on the images of the device one can see “at least four cameras or sensors on the front of the HoloLens prototype.” Microsoft has not given away too many details on what they can do or what exactly they are capable of. No matter, though: Microsoft whipped up a short movie to show a model family, with impeccable grooming and skin, playing all manner of games using Kinect. As for the “holographic processing unit” , Microsoft explained during the presentation that it was needed because the set was processing terabytes of data in real time to understand gestures, voice and map the environment. In the movie, it was easy to miss the disclaimer that said, “Product vision: Actual features and functionality may vary.” Initially, Kinect, sold as an add-on to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console, was a stunning hit. After donning the HoloLens glasses, all the design work was done in a three-dimensional space by grabbing, inserting, aligning, and tweaking components with the hand.

In the three months after it was released in Nov. 2010, Microsoft said it sold 10 million of the devices, earning it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest-selling consumer electronics device. After slow sales of the console, mostly because of the added cost of Kinect, Microsoft reversed course and began selling a cheaper Xbox One without the device. Now it’s hard to find many developers bothering to write games for the Kinect, an understandable decision since they can no longer count on the device being present in homes with an Xbox One.

What’s also clear is that many consumers didn’t feel the value of a Kinect justified the extra $100 Microsoft was charging to get it with the Xbox One. Microsoft has been working on Windows Holographic for about five years and has built the technology — referred to as APIs or application programming interfaces — into Windows 10 and the new Windows 10 “universal apps” that run across Windows PCs, tablets, and phones. We spoke and used hand gestures to place digital markers on different rocks, in an exercise simulating how scientists might use the system to direct the rover’s exploration.

In addition to the standard CPU (central processing unit) and GPU (graphics processing unit) chips, Microsoft has “invented a third processor,” a holographic processing unit. “The ‘HPU’ gives us the ability to understand where you’re looking. Microsoft HoloLens, a holographic lens device, allows users to see three-dimensional renderings of computer-generated images. (Courtesy: Microsoft Corporation) But another exercise brought home how useful the gadget might be.

There were wires dangling everywhere from the headset, some of them tethered to a heavy box that you had to hang around your neck during the demonstration. Kipman called HoloLens ”the next step” in moving ”beyond today’s digital borders.” Microsoft executives talked about other uses – from helping a surgeon learn a new operating technique to designing objects for 3-D printers. JPL is working with Microsoft to apply Windows Holographic and HoloLens to the Mars Rover. “There’s a tool that we’re building with Microsoft to connect scientists and engineers with the environment of the Curiosity Mars Rover,” explained Jeff Norris, JPL OnSight Project Lead, who appeared in a video at the end of the presentation. “We can’t yet put our scientists physically on Mars [but] technology like this allows us to investigate what’s possible if we can make them virtually present,” he said.

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