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Seeing a new augmented reality with Microsoft HoloLens

Augmented reality will either freak you out or be dream come true. Google Glass might have started the ball rolling, but arguably the most exciting example of the technology is Microsoft’s HoloLens, which creates a sci-fi world around you when you slip on its magical visor.

The HoloLens looks a bit like a pair of modern, flashy snow goggles, attached to a thick plastic headband. Unlike virtual reality systems (like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and HTC Vive), which display artificial environments for you to explore, Microsoft’s augmented reality gear adds digital, holographic elements to the real world around you, between your couch and your table, on your kitchen floor or on top of your desk.

Simply put, with a HoloLens on your head, you’ll see 3D objects floating around you.

HoloLens Minecraft

For those that have seen it, worn it and used it, like Verge journalist Adi Robertson, HoloLens is “one of the most amazing pieces of tech I’ve seen.”

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft hopes that it will be the next big thing in computing. And gaming. And communication. And design. The goggles are linked to a small block that hangs around your neck. It includes lenses, tiny projectors and sensors that will track your movement.

When you wear a HoloLens device, a holographic screen appears right in front of you, while you still see the real world around you. This screen can comprise of various virtual objects — Minecraft blocks, for example, or a 3D object you’re designing, or maybe a Skype conversation or a movie.

The augmented reality glasses are designed to track head movements, so you simply turn to whatever hologram you want to focus on. To select or interact with that object, you use your hand or your finger to “AirTap”, a motion similar to prodding an invisible touchscreen.

So you point your head at something, for instance a virtual Skype application, place your hand in front of  you and tap on which ever contact you want to talk to. The photo below gives you some idea of how this user interface works.

HoloLens man with screens

Microsoft allowed some journalists into their lab to show them just what HoloLens is capable of. They invited them to repair a light switch using some real life tools and a socket with exposed wiring. All they had to do was put on the HoloLens goggles and call an engineer via Skype to show them how.

The engineer appeared on a virtual screen and helped them out by drawing virtual notes on top of the exposed wiring. The engineer guided them through the whole process, pointing out what to do with which wire, almost as if he was standing in the room next to them.

HoloLens floating objects

This sort of connected, augmented reality experience is exactly where a new world begins — an astonishing mix of fantasy and reality. Because if it’s possible to repair a light switch this way, what else is possible? In Microsoft’s HoloLens demo, they also showed those journalists around on Mars, whilst they were sitting in a normal room.

“The software [they used], which is called OnSight, will simulate the environment that Curiosity sees using data that the rover gathered on Mars,” explained “This will allow program scientists to examine the environment as if they were standing alongside the rover.”

In the future, will it be possible to design and develop your own car without working in the office? Will holograms have consequences for our educational, financial and medical systems or will it influence everyone’s jobs? The first question we should be asking ourselves is this: will we adapt easily to a non-existant augmented reality world or will we reject it?

HoloLens goggles

You can’t touch or grab the holographic objects you see wearing HoloLens. But imagine yourself walking around with those goggles on at home. As you’re just fervently playing Minecraft on the kitchen table, your spouse walks in… To him or her, you are waving your arms around, prodding and pinching thin air. This could look a bit disturbing, especially since they won’t be able to see what you’re seeing.

This new way working and playing will take some getting used to. Unless that is we’re all wearing HoloLenses in the future and we’re all seeing the same virtual things.


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