THE FUTURE IS HOLOGRAPHIC
Microsoft has taken the veil off its super-secret HoloLens project revealing what it describes as “the world’s first fully untethered holographic computer.” The device allows direct interaction with holographic objects making it appear that the digital world is directly blended with reality.
“It’s not often that a new product release has the potential to reshape the way people work and play. The browser, the smartphone – all of these products fell into that category. Microsoft’s new HoloLens has the potential to do the same”
HoloLens Project Leader, Alex Kipman was onstage to introduce the device. Described as the “father of Kinect” and credited as one of the foremost visionaries behind Microsoft’s push into wearables. On Wednesday, he said, “we’re dreaming beyond virtual worlds, beyond screens, beyond pixels.”
Kipman says the device will be equipped with high-definition see-through lenses, a spacial sound system allowing for 3D audio and a bunch of unspecified sensors. The CPU and GPU are onboard. Microsoft says it has invented a Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) to give HoloLens the ability to understand where the user is looking as well as voice commands and gestures. He also claimed it will be conducting some form of spatial mapping of the surrounding environment.
Following the video presentation Kipman spoke about the impetus behind the project and Microsoft showed off a demo of the unit alongside an application called HoloStudio.
The application allows users to build personalised 3D creations, which can be sent to a 3D printer to become real-world objects. The hardware recognises a combination of inputs.
The main ones displayed in the demo were:
- Voice Commands – Cut, Copy, Paste, Move, Rotate, Glue, etc
- The direction of wearers gaze – Used to track the cursor
- A one finger tap gesture
The primitives worked with were pre-defined, so it’s difficult to get a sense of how powerful the 3D creation engine actually is or what might be possible once developers get their hands on the API’s.
“COME CREATE HOLOGRAMS”
Microsoft is not just launching a headset. The company is also making a big play for relevance as a wearable platform. Kipman was keen to stress that “every Windows 10 device will have Holographic API’s.” The company clearly believes that HoloLens will drive the creation of both a new computing paradigm and a new platform.
Microsoft appealed directly to developers making it clear that it will be happy to share its technology. Kipman specifically called out Oculus, Magic-Leap and Glass devs, saying, “we humbly invite you, to come create holograms with us.”
Despite the early optimism, very significant challenges will remain before Microsoft can bring HoloLens to market. Journalists who tried the headset described it as heavy, fragile and uncomfortable and while Microsoft claims that the consumer release will be untethered, development units utilised a large neck strap and required an umbilical cord for power.
The goal of creating a highly visual, contextual and intuitive computing platform is a noble one, but few people would wear HoloLens in its current form for any extended period. To be fair, Microsoft is not positioning it for that purpose (yet), and the examples shown were mainly focussed on its potential to accomplish particular types of tasks.
The interface will need to be rock-solid if it’s to succeed. Once consumers try it on it will need to perform flawlessly. Introducing a new augmented reality headset is one thing, ensuring that people can use it to accomplish tasks they care about is another.
Initial impressions are positive, but this would not be the first time an exciting device shown in prototype, has failed to live up to expectations.
THE WAIT BEGINS
At this point, it is clear that many tens of millions of dollars are being invested in creating a computing platform for the face.
Facebook (Oculus), Google, Samsung and Sony, have already declared their intentions, Apple, (about to go after the wrist) and perhaps Amazon remain undeclared.
Currently, there is no date for the products arrival, other than “during the Windows 10 timeframe.” There is no price information either and it’s safe to assume that both features and design will change as the project progresses.
Despite the public failure of Glass 1.0, augmented reality will undoubtedly play a big part in shaping the future of computing. Whether that future will look like Microsoft’s HoloLens or something else entirely remains to be seen.
Microsoft HoloLens: Official Site