Just days after Google stopped selling their Glass wearable device on January 19th 2015, Microsoft stepped in to fill the void by launching their own device, the HoloLens.
While there are many wearable AR and Virtual Reality devices, there is now another, very important variation.
- Google Glass presented data in a small display that appeared in the periphery of the the user’s field of vision.
- Epson’s Moverio smart glasses supplements the real world with binocular vision (some of the truest augmented reality seen to date).
- VR devices like those from Oculus (the Rift and the upcoming Cresent Bay), are fully immersive.
Microsoft’s device takes a very different approach: blending virtual and real into something we might describe as mixed reality — similar to the project from a student team at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) in Silicon Valley as described in “Augmented Reality Assistance” (link).
During the press demonstration, Microsoft showed that the HoloLens can be used to simulate a walk on Mars, play Minecraft on a coffee table, enhance Skype calls with virtual whiteboards, design products in 3D or summon virtual tech support to fix a real light switch. HoloLens is controlled with a combination of gaze, gesture and voice — and your head is the cursor. Basically, you look through a transparent stereo display where you want to interact or at what you want to control. Many actions are performed with what Microsoft calls an “air tap,” which is done by making a fist in front of your body, where the HoloLens can see it, and then raising and dropping your index finger in one quick motion, as if you were tapping someone on the shoulder.
Of course, HoloLens is packed full of sensors, including a 3D depth sensor (the same one found in the Kinect) and it is can quickly create a detailed 3D mesh map of a room and everything in it… then the magic happens. HoloLens can clothe the map with 3D imagery to become part of the same environment as real world.
It is far too early in the development of Microsoft’s HoloLens to make any definitive statements, but it is clear that the combination of the device and it’s software is not quite like anything we have used before and it might just be the best evolutionary step in the enhanced environment.