Hands On: Microsoft HoloLens

(image: Microsoft)



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27 January 2017 | 0

While many people got their first real taste of augmented reality (AR) with the craze that was Pokémon Go, there were other instances before. However, irrespective of the introduction, the concept is now fairly well represented. Augmented reality is the scenario where technology can be used to overlay information for a user on a view of the real world, allowing for information flow and communication.

Virtual reality (VR), on the other hand, is where the user is immersed in a virtual environment, irrespective of whether that world is connected or not. It is a more isolating experience, for good or ill, but a different prospect to augmented reality.

Now, Microsoft with its HoloLens device offering a third way that it calls mixed reality, where elements of VR and reality are blended in a way that can take into account the physical world around a user, but still provide a relatively immersive experience for the presentation and manipulation of information.


Mixed reality blends existing space with the HoloLens visualisations. (Image: Microsoft)

Speaking to TechPro, Ryan Mesches, technical evangelist, Microsoft, described HoloLens as a ‘self-contained holographic unit’.

Mixed reality
Mixed reality, said Mesches, gives the best of both AR and VR, without the drawbacks of VR — that disconnection from the real world — allowing it to be used for more than VR might be able to achieve.

Mesches said that apart from the obvious, such as education and training, HoloLens will also fit easily in the remote working and collaboration space, providing users with ‘real-time, immersive feedback’ in such situations.

Unlike many VR and AR devices, HoloLens is entirely self-contained and runs Windows 10, giving immediate access to its extensive ecosystem of apps, services and capabilities.

The upcoming Windows 10 Creators Update will bring the holographic platform to Windows users, allowing easy scanning and capture of objects to create 3D models which can then be viewed and manipulated through HoloLens, or incorporated into specific HoloLens apps. Microsoft said the development opportunity is significant, “as all holographic apps are Universal Windows apps, and all Universal Windows apps can be made to run on the Windows Holographic platform”.

Developer benefits
Mesches said that things were being opened up for developers and the HoloLens efforts were ‘targeting creators’ to allow them to fully realise their creative ambitions.

From its initial availability, HoloLens has gained a long list of notable users, from NASA and Airbus, to Audi and Volvo.

From training and skill development, to collaboration and presence, HoloLens has been widely applied across various industries. Japan Airlines uses it for to provide supplemental training for engine mechanics and for flight crew, while Thyssenkrupp has achieved a reduction in service intervention time by up to a factor of four in its lift maintenance business.

The device itself contains some special hardware, from spatial microphones and speakers to environment-mapping and depth-sensing cameras. Ambient sensors also pick up light levels to adjust for the user’s experience. A custom processor, the Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) is separate from the graphics processing unit (GPU).

Right on
Donning the device is a simple affair, and head band can be adjusted via a twist grip at the back, and then the actual viewing screen can be adjusted to optimal levels for the user.

The environment sensing capabilities allow the physical environs to be included in the experience. For example, a scanned image can be projected to appear on a table or design surface, or merely manipulated in open space.

However, the real trick is to allow the user to move around the available space, to interact with the visualisation as they wish. This extra dimension of freedom is where the immersive feeling really comes across and yet does not enclose the user as would pure VR.

The HoloLens is available in Ireland in two versions. The developer kit costs €3,299, and consists of the HoloLens Development Edition with an interaction ‘Clicker’, carrying case, charger and cable, microfibre cloth, nose pads and overhead strap.

Enterprise features
The HoloLens Commercial Suite costs €5,489, and contains the same items in the box, and enterprise features include:

  • Kiosk Mode that can limit which apps to run to enable demo or showcase experiences
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM) for HoloLens
  • Azure Active Directory integration and next generation credentials with PIN unlock
  • Windows Update for Business, with controlled operating system updates to devices and support for long term servicing branch
  • Data Security via BitLocker data encryption and secure boot to provide the same level of security protection as any other Windows device
  • Any user within the organisation can remotely connect to the corporate network through a virtual private network on a HoloLens. HoloLens can also access Wi-Fi networks that require credentials.
  • Windows Store For Business, allowing the secure distribution of enterprise software to selected users

While the cost is unlikely to see many enterprises roll out HoloLens instead of VPN licences for remote workers, in grand scheme of virtualised work spaces, the price tag is not prohibitive. As the technology develops, it may well see more organisations deploy such technologies for remote and collaborative working, but for now, HoloLens represents a high quality, affordable way to break into the A/M/VR world to unlock capabilities for skills, knowledge transfer and extension and pure visualisation.




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