This week Microsoft released HoloLens for order to developers to be shipped at the end of March. This is a very different device than a 3D Headset or something like Google Glass, both of which separately can do similar things but lack the ability to fully immerse the user in a blend of what is real and what is virtual—HoloLens alters reality and this is really very different. While there has been a lot of interest in gaming, the initial price of this device will likely keep it focused first on business, government, and education where the utility of the device justifies its higher price.
Let’s revisit Microsoft HoloLens this week.
Let’s start with a refresher on what HoloLens is. It is a full vision emersion holographic headset. This means through a mix of transparent displays and cameras it can place virtual items into real environments altering how these environments are perceived. Eventually it could take the place of both 3D headsets and augmented reality headsets, but both of these may remain better for their individual areas of function even after HoloLens fully matures. This is because 3D headsets can be made cheaper and are better when vision is fully occluded for gaming and entertainment, and conversely with an augmented reality headset you may want maximum natural vision if you are driving, walking, or flying a plane (and no risk of technology failure suddenly shutting your vision off which could be problematic in those uses).
However you can also anticipate that a future version of HoloLens could make windows on planes redundant making it possible to discontinue transparent canopies on fighters and immediately be more useful to tank drivers. It simply depends on the problem you are trying to solve. But particularly with some types of weapons systems and industrial equipment it could actually both improve vision and safety at the same time.
Often architects and interior designers have to create virtual models and then place them in pictures to provide some sense of how the interior and exterior of a building will look. However, often the actual views and appearance isn’t fully realized until the building or interior is nearly done, resulting in expensive late change orders. With HoloLens you combine what is at the site or in the building with the digitized image of the anticipated design or interior layout and furnishings. You see things very close to the way they will be finished very early in the build process, potentially lowering the cost of change orders dramatically and removing a lot of the animosity that often develops between architects, builders, interior designers and their clients.
Repair & Maintenance
HoloLens provides the ability to bend the plans for a device, vehicle, or building with the actual device, vehicle, or building. This means that someone repairing or modifying one of these things can see what is underneath a case, wall, cover, or behind a pipe in order to more quickly diagnose and correct a problem. For instance, a mechanic needing to remove a bolt that is hidden but can be reached with an extension socket wrench could more easily find that bolt with HoloLens and reduce the need to remove the stuff that is in the way of seeing it. By the way, this isn’t just for working on buildings and machines but think of how useful this would be for a doctor making sure they worked on the right body part, or that a remote specialist could provide both verbal and visual aids to the surgeon real time from other part of the world. Particularly in remote areas this could save lives.
Education & Design
When you are building something or learning how to build something prototyping is a necessary part of the process. With 3D printers the cost of this has come down sharply, but if you can first build these things virtually it can save a lot of time. The difficulty with using a screen is it often doesn’t give you the full perspective of what something will actually look like, and screen manipulation is far from natural. With HoloLens students and designers can build virtual models, walk around them, and manipulate them at full size if need be. While they may still want and need to eventually build a physical model, this could dramatically reduce the number of models they have to build and may often, once folks are comfortable with the technology, eliminate the need to actually create a model in the first place.
First Person Gaming
While I mentioned that home gaming may be a while off, other kinds of gaming like military or police simulation should be more interesting near term. We’ve had virtual Hogan’s alleys for some time now but it lacked the reality needed to put the player in the action realistically. Because HoloLens blends the real and the virtual, drills and training exercises can be placed into real buildings. This means that officers training for a school shooting could train in actual schools, security officers in the buildings they are securing, and you could even have virtual training for a military or police breach team hours before they actually had to do a breach.
While these could eventually lead to some incredibly realistic consumer level games, initially this could make the difference between whether a team is successful or fails. Expand this to training in triage or disaster response and this could greatly reduce the cost of keeping a variety of critical first responder skills up to date.
HoloLens is one of those tools that, I expect, it will take years to fully realize. While the initial price is expensive for gaming it isn’t so far out that a truly compelling title couldn’t drive sales even at current prices. Still, initially, the real opportunity is in industry, military, medicine, and anyplace where reality blended with simulation could be beneficial. It anticipates a future where most windows would be redundant, where wall art could change based on the HoloLens wearer’s interests, and even clothing on other people could be changed on a whim. Granted that will be a few years coming but, fortunately, initially there is plenty of utility to get this thing off the ground.
And, sadly, even if it really isn’t ready for gaming, damned if I don’t want one.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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