Since officially launching in the UK in 2016, Microsoft’s HoloLens – the company’s mixed reality headset – has been adopted by industries keen to change the way they work. From teaching health sciences at universities to designing the new Mars Rover, HoloLens has already shown its potential is seemingly limitless.
HoloLens was designed as a “tool of the trade” and is worn as a self-contained headset, with everything from sound to its processing power incorporated. This allows the person wearing it to see the world around them, making it more accessible than virtual reality headsets. The downside is that HoloLens is less immersive than VR because of its limited field of view giving the user the feel of looking through a television screen.
“We live in a very physical reality and recently we’ve created this alternate digital reality and the two don’t really meet,” Microsoft senior account executive Marta Guasch tells WIRED. “Now can we start to break down the barriers of technology to make it start feeling more natural and mix those realities together; the physical and the digital.
“If I was to create a 3D model of a can of Coke and put its hologram onto a table, others would be able to wear a HoloLens and we’d all be able to see that can of Coke,” Guasch says. “If we take off the HoloLens and come back in three days it would still be in exactly the same place.”
Reports in February hinted that Microsoft is “side-stepping” a second Hololens and is instead focusing on a more advanced version of its existing hardware, with a rumoured 2019 release. That relies on the headset’s potential being recognised further. Here, we list the key industries where HoloLens is making an impact.
Architecture firm Trimble uses HoloLens to help visualise buildings in 3D. In a test, WIRED was able to visualise and adjust buildings, in 3D in model size and in full-scale – a view which shows how the building would look from the street. Air-tapping a section of the building allows the person wearing HoloLens to adjust parts of the model, or add notes if an issue is noticed in the office,that a person on-site also wearing HoloLens can see in real-time. The technology additionally allows someone wearing the headset to be working on a model on a computer, drag the mouse across into what’s known as holographic space and work on the same virtual model in 3D.
Microsoft has partnered with Cape Western University to allow students studying medicine to examine a full-scale human body without the need for a cadaver. The interactive hologram can be studied by tapping on different parts and delving into that part of the body in further detail. Tapping on the chest reveals the respiratory system; another tap reveals a full-scale version of a heart. The holograph has a volumetric presence meaning, as Guasch explains, “you can actually walk up to and look down into the chest cavity.” The technology has already prompted the university to design a new course outline that incorporates HoloLens.
Scientists and engineers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory use HoloLens and OnSight to explore the surface of Mars using images gathered by the Mars Rover. Teams at the lab are able to explore the surface of the Red Planet and flag up interesting aspects to be analysed later. Guasch says Mars Rover 2020 is being designed through HoloLens. “They actually have holograms of the Mars Rover that they’re building so they can identify where they’ve made design flaws and fix them before building begins”.
Volvo is using HoloLens to change the experience of buying a car. Having the holographic technology allows customers to visualise features, beyond colour and fabric, as 3D holograms rather than flat computer images. The company uses HoloLens to show customers how safety features work, too, such as sensors that stop the car before a potential crash; something they couldn’t demonstrate before.
ThyssenKrupp Elevators, who employ 24,000 elevator technicians, is using HoloLens to identify problems that need to be dealt with ahead of a job and to communicate with colleagues off-site to relay information in real-time. It allows the company to train engineers safely and efficiently by using holograms to visualise problems in 3D and help them identify which issues that need to be solved.