The latest altered reality headset from Microsoft, HoloLens 2, was released at the Mobile World Congress in February 2019, and the headline from Microsoft was “Mixed reality is ready for business.”
The new device is not only lighter than the first version, Microsoft also claims, “HoloLens 2 offers the most comfortable and immersive mixed reality experience available, with industry-leading solutions that deliver value in minutes—all enhanced by the reliability, security, and scalability of cloud and AI services from Microsoft.” In his keynote at the debut, CEO Satya Nadella explained its importance, “When you change the way you see the world, you change the world you see.”
The promise from Microsoft is that the mixed reality medium will change the way medical students learn, it will help preserve ancient historical landmarks, and it will provide heads-up, hands-free assistance to first-line workers everywhere. But before we get to how HoloLens 2 works, there are now three different modes of altering our perception of reality. Let’s put each on its own shelf.
VR, AR, MR
In the past, when a person began to see a markedly different reality than the one surrounding the rest of us, there might arise questions about their sanity. Today, we gladly pay a premium to alter our reality in ways far more persuasive than with our conventional media like film or television.
Virtual Reality (VR) headsets are designed to immerse users in an artificial, digitally generated environment. This mode has been around long enough to be generally understood.
Augmented Reality (AR) doesn’t remove you from your present reality. Rather, it overlays virtual objects on your real world surroundings. The information projected into reality aren’t random disconnected images and sound. They appear as “appropriate” in the real settings. An example of this registration of two realities can be seen in heads-up display technologies. The name actually explains what’s happening. The real world, according to Wikipedia, is “augmented by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities.”
Mixed Reality (MR) goes one step further. It produces environments that are sometimes referred to as hybrid realities. The added digital information isn’t just overlaid on reality. The virtual objects are anchored to real world objects in a way that allows the viewer to interact with the hybrid (virtual/real) objects. As Nadella explains, it allows you to touch, grab, and maneuver the virtual projections. You directly interact with the combined virtual/real objects.
The line worker in these photos can see the instruction sheet and the pointers in correct position as he follows the correct assembly sequence. In the second view, the MR program imposes an image of the wrench he holds and the direction for tightening. The instruction manual, literally, is projected step-by-step into the space occupied by the object being assembled.
Above, a set designer stands in the audience space and shifts the large pieces of scenery by grabbing and pushing them into place to see how they will look as she decides on a final positioning. The tree, clouds, and rocks are virtual, but her hands can move them from one position to another.
A more detailed picture of the hardware and the possible business applications were presented in this review from The Verge.
SOFTWARE AND THE CLOUD
Known throughout its 43-year history as primarily a software company, Microsoft has linked the new HoloLens hardware to its Dynamics 365 Remote Assist program and its Azure network. The combined cost for the HoloLens 2 plus Dynamics 365 Remote Assist starts at $125 per user/month. The HoloLens 2 alone will retail at $3,500 and you can preorder on the Microsoft website.