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Experiences

Microsoft Hololens

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several sessions with Microsoft’s Hololens AR standalone headset; it’s always been impressive to use despite the obvious limitations of current AR technology.

Talking of technology, Microsoft list the Hololens with these specifications:

Optics See-through holographic lenses (waveguides)

Holographic resolution 2 HD 16:9 light engines producing 2.3M total light points

Holographic density >2.5k radiants (light points per radian)

-Eye-based rendering

-Automatic pupillary distance calibration

In addition, the Hololens has a fully loaded sensor array:


    1 inertial measurement unit (IMU)
    4 environment understanding cameras
    1 depth camera
    1 2MP photo / HD video camera
    Mixed reality capture
    4 microphones
    1 ambient light sensor

Compute

  • Intel 32-bit architecture with TPM 2.0 support
  • Custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU 1.0)
  • 64 GB Flash
  • 2 GB RAM

Regarding pricing, I’d only heard of them being sold to enterprise and big business (i.e. Microsoft partners) but I once saw a Hololens for sale in computer exchange (CEX) for a cool £3,200.

From my somewhat limited understanding of augmented reality technology, there is a long roadmap of development still ahead.

VR is almost seen as a solved problem with further iterations only set to improve on what is already a very immersive experience in terms of ‘presence’ (feeling of being there). Wider field of view, varifocal, eyetracking, HDR, etc. These features will be introduced to consumer headsets as costs are reduced.

VR experiences are very effective even with current consumer level technologies.

But AR has a much harder set of technical challenges and problems to solve before we find ourselves wearing the “AR glasses” seen in a number of films and television shows over many years. 2 great examples of AR glasses and contact lenses in media are Hulu’s Mars mission television show “The First” (Sean Penn), and Clive Owen’s recent film “Anon”.

AR overlay in movie “Anon” with Clive Owen and Amenda Seyfried

Facebook Reality Labs, Apple and Microsoft are amongst those companies employing lots of very smart people to try and figure it out as the race to replace the smartphone with AR glasses is underway. Of course Microsoft had their kinect sensor technology from the gaming console business, which was further developed for Hololens.

Welcome to the future….

Microsoft’s Hololens AR standalone headset has available since October 2016 in the UK, with a new version shipping right now. Being a special order device aimed at enterprise customers, it’s been difficult to get any hands-on, until Microsoft did a launch party for their new London experience store.

And of course I went back several times in the following weeks to use it again, including a quiet morning where I had a full hour using the Hololens 😘

Interesting form factor and ergonomics:- rotate the headband, push it back, adjust the wheel on the rear of the headband.
Sensors galore and awesome looking waveguides

The device was reasonably light (reported at 579 grammes) and comfortable to wear with easy adjustment system using an rotating headband which is pushed back to fit, and then a simple adjustment wheel on the rear of the headband to change the circumference.

The holographic display was surprisingly impressive with the limited field of view not as severe as I had been led to believe. Yes it was limited especially compared to my VR headsets, but after all…it was using holograms 🤯

Holographic resolution and brightness were sufficient to create a convincing illusion, it was better than I had expected from reading many reviews prior to trying it myself.

I first did an experience focused on the current London location but with an AR overlay showing a historical scene with horse and carriages rolling past outside, which felt really magical.

Then I used several applications which were already onboard, with one showing how to use hand gestures; it was here the limitations of hand tracking were evident with it sometimes requiring several gestures actions to trigger. Despite that, it was great fun when it worked with the freedom of hands free computing.

However the lighting conditions were not optimum with lots of sunlight and people moving about,vso it would need testing in another location to determine the reliability of the gesture recognition.

Microsoft list the device capabilities as follows:-

Using the following to understand user actions:

    Gaze tracking
    Gesture input
    Voice support

Using the following to understand the environment:

    Spatial sound

Having an amazing time playing with Hololens

Overall I found Hololens to an impressive demonstration clearly signalling the huge potential for AR glasses.

Most importantly, it passed the “WOW!!” test, which is the potential of any HMD to make you pull the wow! face. This is clearly seen in the image below, wow!

Having now used Hololens several times, I’m really looking forward to trying it’s successor the Hololens 2.

I’m also very interested in following the development of augmented reality glasses as the successor to the smartphone. Google glass, Microsoft, Magic Leap, Apple, and many more to follow…

Making the transition to a “head up, hands free” computing platform has substantial benefits for skeletal posture, reduction of repetitive strain injuries, increased spatial and environmental awareness, and hand freedom to interact with the computing interface and the real world.

My experiences with the Hololens and Magic Leap has firmly convinced me of AR’s potential to change our world.

However, these 2 devices remind me of early VR headsets from the 1990’s, where potential was clear to see despite the technology being immature.

I don’t expect to see really competent AR glasses until the early 2030’s, but do look forward to trying further developments as AR technology continues to improve.

Big thanks to the people at Microsoft London for letting me use the Hololens. And thanks to you for reading! Rob Cole

By immersivecomputing.org

Human exploration of the immersive computing interface

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