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HoloLens gets real

In January, Microsoft caught many of us by surprise when it introduced HoloLens, a visionary and futuristic device that represents their first step beyond the desktop into the augmented reality market.

A mere three months later, developers – including a few from Empired – got a chance to get hands on with the device. And make no mistake, it's real. It's much more than a research project, and it has the potential to fundamentally change our relationship with the digital world.

From design and engineering, to gaming, collaboration, and education, many of the problems we address with software exist in the real world and need to be solved in three dimensions. Forcing them onto two dimensional displays – like phones, tablets, PCs or TVs – requires us to perform complex mental arithmetic to form a complete understanding. HoloLens provides a platform to project digital representations onto the real world, providing a natural way to visualize and interact with objects in 3D space. 

A self-contained computer

The HoloLens is a self-contained computer: it doesn't require a tethered phone or PC and is packed with sensors, including cameras, microphones, speakers and displays. It builds on the sophisticated technology that already powers Kinect’s motion and gesture tracking and Cortana’s speech recognition. This array of sensors can generate an avalanche of data, which led to the creation of a dedicated processing unit, the holographic processing unit, or HPU. That leaves the CPU/GPU available for application developers to play with.  

HoloLens is powered by Windows Holographic, part of the Windows 10 platform, which caters to a broad spectrum of devices from small IoT platforms, to mobile devices, desktops, wall mounted displays, Xbox and the cloud. This means Windows Holographic is not exclusive to HoloLens, opening up possibilities for a range of devices from different manufacturers. It also means that apps will be built for the Windows 10 universal developer platform, rather than HoloLens specifically, allowing apps to run across the range of supported Windows devices. Existing apps will appear as 2D panes in HoloLens. This might work for Video or Mail, but developers solving real world problems can extend their apps into 3D and make full use of the hardware. 

Magic? It’s close

As a software developer, I don't often find myself using the word 'magical', but elements of my experience with HoloLens bring that term to mind. I walked through an architecture scenario, and was able to manipulate building design in a 3D space through traditional precision devices like a mouse as well as through physical gestures. The holograms are also fixed to their location in the physical environment, allowing the user to move around and get a different perspective on objects. The 'magic', however, is constrained to a modest field of vision. Holograms are only visible through a distinct window in the visor, so it doesn't provide the fully immersive experience promoted by the recent keynote demos. Not yet, at least.


While it didn't feature in the hands-on experience, it's also possible for multiple HoloLens users to collaborate and interact with the same hologram, with each getting a different perspective on the object, based on their location. More than that, through sophisticated eye tracking, the HoloLens can identify exactly what you're looking at in the environment, opening up interesting possibilities for highly personalized and collaborative applications. 

Coming soon

Ready to click Buy? Microsoft haven't commented on release dates but it's not too early to start preparing your application. Familiarise yourself with the new Universal Windows Platform for applications, a key feature of Windows 10. It's currently in preview and likely to launch during the US summer and will be the basis of HoloLens apps. Also, spend some time with existing 3D gaming platforms. Many of the concepts are the same, the key difference being that HoloLens will allow you to place your 3D objects on a physical surface rather than a generated one. And then give us a call – we'd love to help!

Posted by: James Carpinter, Senior Developer, Enterprise Applications  | 09 June 2015

Tags: Virtualisation, Retail

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