Microsoft HoloLens with Windows Holographic Technology was announced today at the Windows 10 Live Event; a new project that uses holograms to immerse users in digital content and I am sure that most of you still remember the glasses Marty McFly had in “Back To The Future 2”. A beautiful reminder that Science-Fiction will eventually turn into Science-Facts.
Microsoft’s holographic technology works with a new device called Microsoft HoloLens, a fully untethered device that uses see-through lenses, spatial sound and advanced sensors that blends holograms, videos, sounds with real world objects, providing the users with an augmented reality version of their environment. That takes playing video games, like Minecraft for example or tasks like three-dimensional virtual teaching to a completely new dimension. The most distinguishing feature of HoloLens glasses is its self-sufficiency: there are no wires and no need for a connection to a PC or a smartphone.
In addition to a CPU & GPU, Microsoft HoloLens features a third processing unit HPU (Holographic Processing Unit). Users will be able to perform virtual smartphone functions, holographic Skype calls, watch TV, design and create objects – such as spaceships – and eventually 3-D print them. Microsoft HoloLens with Windows Holographic understands where you’re looking, recognises your voice commands, your body movements, gestures and is able to spatially map the surrounding infrastructure. The demonstration video below also shows a Microsoft engineer examining a Mars-like landscape and playing with shapes in a 3D games while wearing a headset.
Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Holographic provides ways for engineers to see instructions overlaid directly on the objects they’re working on or offers a way for architects to survey and present their designs alongside clients even when separated by great distances. Microsoft HoloLens will transform one’s living room into a surreal gaming environment for example, with no wires and no external cameras.
“In software, nothing is impossible, at best, things are improbable. And with a little bit of luck and a lot of pixie dust, the improbable becomes possible.” said Alex Kipman, one of Microsoft’s developers who helped develop the Kinect. “Holographic capabilities are already enabled inside every Windows 10 build, from the little screens to the big screens to no screens at all. With Windows 10, it’s possible.” Kipman said, specifically calling out holographic developers.
Ultimately, Microsoft HoloLens is an augmented reality experience that employs a headset, much like all the VR goggles that are currently rising in popularity but Microsoft’s solution adds holograms to the world around you. The HoloLens headset is described as “the most advanced holographic computer the world has ever seen.” The dark visor up front contains a see-through display, there’s spatial sound so you can “hear” holograms behind you and HoloLens also integrates a set of motion and environmental sensors.
While the HoloLens does seem an awful lot like the Sulon Cortex hardware, which is also designed to be tether-free in its final construction, Microsoft revealed close collaboration with NASA in the development Microsoft HoloLens and US Space Agency hopes to start controlling its Mars rovers with a prototype version as soon as July 2015 and I can only hope that today’s announcement will only encourage other companies like Motion Leap and Oculus to make a start on creating their own holograms.
Not many of you know that Microsoft HoloLens is in fact the evolution of a technology that Microsoft presented for the first time to the public back in 2011, called at that time Microsoft HoloDesk, see below the video Microsoft Research released at that time:
To support Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Holographic, Microsoft built HoloStudio, a 3D modelling tool that lets people build holograms, which they can then integrated into software or 3D print them for physical use. Microsoft HoloLens will be available within the Windows 10 timeline, according to Microsoft and its success is now in the hands of holographic developers across the world.
I love the product. I loved the idea since Microsoft released a preview of HoloDesk back in 20111 but there was something missing. Still is. The Haptic Feedback. Virtual reality now looks and sounds so lifelike that you instinctively feel like you’re physically in the virtual space and that means that you want to touch, feel and interact at a sensorial level with the virtual projections as you would do with objects in real life. Unfortunately, without haptic feedback (or a whole lot of props and careful planning), neither of these are possible.
The technology already exists, classic haptic technology is already all around us and scientists have invented a new method of haptic feedback using ultrasound, which creates 3D haptic shapes in mid-air that can be seen and felt. The researchers, University of Bristol based, envisage that this innovative technology could transform the way that we use 3D haptic shapes. It could lead to touchable holograms to augment learning, or enhanced gaming experience by allowing users to feel features of the game, such as a football. It could even have a place in medicine, for example by allowing surgeons to physically feel tumours by exploring CT scans.
The method, exploits an effect produced by ultrasound called acoustic radiation force, which is the scattering and absorption of the acoustic wave. By observing how sound waves behave when they hit an object, it is possible to deduce the shape of the object. The technology is maturing rapidly, and it’s making its way into the mass market on a scale worthy of developer attention and the interfaces that apply it need to catch up.
We are limited only by our imagination. I always knew one day I’ll have my own “Star Trek Holodeck”