With Sony, Samsung and Google all having launched products in the virtual reality space, it’s not that much of a surprise to hear that Microsoft is also waiting in the wings with its own bit of kit. European pre-orders of the HoloLens are about to go live, and as such nobody in their right mind is going to say no to an early test drive.
Well, I certainly wasn’t, anyway. So, despite having quite the schedule to keep at this year’s ever-impressive Virgin Disruptors event in London, I made sure to make time to visit the showcase from HoloLens, courtesy of virtual and augmented reality specialist firm Happy Finish.
If it’s the first you have heard about this, the device is a basically a holographic computer which, when worn, allows users to interact with whatever is being projected by the software developer.
This isn’t virtual reality, then, but rather augmented reality. The gadget presents to us our world, but with supplementary information. The incredible success of Pokemon Go is testament to how well an AR game can do, and the one thing that quickly becomes apparent when you’re wearing this product is just how much of a game changer it’s likely to be, and in how many different ways.
After correctly positioning the headset, I was immediately faced with the first of many new experiences. I’ve worn a VR helmet in the past, back in the bad-old-good-old formative years, and thankfully things have quite clearly come on leaps and bounds. Presented with a holographic menu, I was told to make a ‘talking mouth’ gesture with my fingers and thumb to choose an option. Intrigued by a weightlifter, I began a real lesson in how to lift weights safely. Well, as near as you can get to real, anyway.
Any dystopian sci-fi buff will already be coming up with all kinds of ways in which mankind could now descend down the rabbit hole, into a scenario where nobody actually knows if something is happening or the result of software engineers. Nevertheless, it’s impressive and rather extraordinary to think that in a couple of years personal trainers could be computerised. And that’s just one example.
Something else at the Happy Finish exhibit caught my eye next, again involving the HoloLens. Put together specifically for the day, I ‘clicked’ on a hologram Virgin plane to reveal a hologram globe. It showed me every Virgin plane in the world; its current location and activity - i.e. on the ground, or midair. A phenomenal sight, if somewhat overwhelming, to give at least a little idea as to the level of information this programme could show, you could then drill down into each individual plane to find information on each particular flight. Gone are the days of logging on to see where in the world your loved one is on his or her latest business travels.
And that’s really what the whole AR excitement is about – the ability to present complex information in a way that is not just easy, but completely natural to understand, and immersive, too. Consider having the plans to every gas and water pipe, or electrical cable running through your home, downloaded onto a headset so you simply follow the instructions layered over whatever needs fixing. DIY repairs would be much safer, and easier to do successfully. The same with a broken down car. Why not download what a trained mechanic would see; which part needs to be replaced, how, and with what.
Imagine redesigning an entire house without the need to redesign - "see" if the new concept would work via your headset before rolling it out. The list goes on and on - planning for new residential areas, learning to drive, mastering a particular academic subject... I’m sure you get the idea by now, and having tried this stuff in action perhaps what’s most surprising is that it definitely feels market-ready. More so, it feels ready to make huge waves in many different fields.
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