HoloLens is a mixed reality device made by Microsoft. Mixed reality means we can see both the real and the virtual world at the same time. The virtual world consists of small see-through objects called holograms. These objects look very realistic, because they are 3D, have width, height and depth and are placed at a specific position in space. The best feature of the HoloLens is the precise hand recognition. Without any controller or wearable electronic gloves, it can detect our hands, so advanced interactions are possible, like touch, grasp and pointing at a far hologram.
Mixed reality applications behave just like smartphone apps. We can download them from the Store and developers can build custom software for any specific requirements. With the app installed, we can start it by single tapping the launcher, and the holographic app starts.
Spatial mapping is another great feature, that makes the device capable of detecting the surroundings. We can use this to place a hologram on the wall or table without overlapping. The device can map the physical environment with an accuracy of 10 cm (4 in).
HoloLens works great in small-scale environments like rooms, but it doesn’t perform well outside. The spatial mapping feature is limited to a 30m range from the observer. However, the hologram stability is great even at long distances. For research purposes, we placed a large object next to a building and we walked 200 m (660 ft) with the device. Looking back, the object stayed at the same location anytime we tested it.
Holograms keep their location while the app is running, but what happens if we restart the app, or if we want to set a permanent position for a hologram? To remember hologram positions, we can use the Spatial Anchors service provided by the Microsoft Azure cloud. This service keeps track of the surroundings of the hologram so the device can remember it the next time we approach the same location.
HoloLens 2 is a wearable mixed reality device, so it needs to be comfortable. Microsoft delivers an exceptional convenient design with a 566 g weight and a new “fit-system” that can be adjusted with a dial on the back of the device. This is a completely wireless setup, that runs on a battery. Depending on the workload, it can last 2-3 hours. Charging can be done with a standard USB-C cable.
One of the most important features of a smart device is network connectivity. The device has Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 5. The integrated GPS module is missing, but there are 3rd party external GPS receivers for the HoloLens.
HoloLens 2 offers a new display technology called Laser Beam Scanning and has twice as large Field of View (43° x 29°) compared to the original HoloLens. This is still quite small compared to VR devices, but we hope that the next generation will have improved holographic technology.
Basically, there are see-through lenses in front of our eyes and the image is projected to them. For outdoor use, the display brightness and the contrast are too low. One non-official solution is to apply shades to the device. This can be done with a 3rd party attachment for the HoloLens.
Consumers use this technology for many real-world use cases in a wide range of industries. Manufacturing boosts training performance with holographic learning where each complex step is visualized with 3D holograms. Support engineers valuable time can be speared with a remote assist, a video call app for HoloLens. Others improved factory performance with real-time data visualization of in-house processes. Construction and public utility companies visualize future projects and make visible what’s behind the walls and under the floor with architectural plan overlays.
Microsoft offers the device for a fixed $3500 through distributors mainly for business customers. The recommended EU device distributor is Bechtle for small and large scale purchases. This state-of-the-art technology with that price tag is a viable option only for enterprise R&D and startup ventures with mixed reality focused projects. Special financing options are also available besides purchasing like leasing or renting devices.
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