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Virtual & Augmented Reality

Mixed Reality: Time to Take it Seriously

Microsoft's HoloLens has been on the market for around a year now. Has the self-contained mobile display system become more than just a gaming accessory? We learned the answer to this question at the Future Talks in Hall 6.

24 Mar. 2017

On the surface, the holographic smartglasses look like any other VR headset. However, HoloLens is built around mixed reality – a blend of its virtual and augmented predecessors. This combination is now providing a platform for a multitude of new applications – and we’re not talking video games.

Broadening Reality, Not Escaping It

In contrast to VR goggles like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, HoloLens doesn't plunge the wearer into a virtual world cut off from reality. Instead, it superimposes digital images or information over their field of vision. The viewer can then interact with these holograms, making the experience personal and unique. In a demo application, the user takes on the role of a detective on the lookout for clues – in their own home, no less. It is on their very own coffee table that they eventually discover the incriminating evidence: a fingerprint. Applications like this deliver a sense of immersion that VR struggles to match.

Teaming up with companies across multiple industries, Microsoft last year showcased this example to capture the public imagination. Presenting it today was Margeau Veenstra, responsible for Microsoft HoloLens Commercial Strategy.

Developing and Learning Made Easier

The device is expected to deliver added value in areas including product design and development. Rather than working with a full 3D model of an existing motorbike, a designer can use gestures to apply virtual changes to the real vehicle’s paintwork, for example. And when it comes to the actual manufacturing, the technology could increase speed considerably.

Microsoft also sees great potential for the gadget in education. For instance, the company is working alongside Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio to significantly improve the study of medicine. "Students no longer have to learn human anatomy on genuine corpses, but can instead work with detailed 3D models of organs and vessels, for example," explains Veenstra. "They don't have to do that in isolation, either, but with professors and fellow students during lectures."

(Extra)Terrestrial Use Cases

HoloLens has even made it as far as the International Space Station. The smartglasses allow NASA’s earthbound staff to see through the eyes of their astronaut colleagues in space. "Countless experiments are going on up there every day – and that’s not to mention the maintenance. No astronaut knows exactly what to do every single time," says Veenstra. NASA employees down on Earth have a clear picture of the conditions on the space station – and can superimpose maintenance instructions, for example, onto the astronaut's field of vision.

Meanwhile, thyssenkrupp Elevator has developed a terrestrial application. Over 24,000 service technicians are out in the field all the time, performing maintenance work on lifts and escalators around the world. And nowadays, this is an incredibly complex task. But with holographic smartglasses, repair workers can view 3D representations of the elevator – and check its maintenance history – on their way to the customer. When they arrive on site, they have their hands free to perform repairs and access information on specific components. According to some data, the company has cut maintenance times down from two hours to twenty minutes.

Find out more about mixed, virtual, and augmented reality at the Serious Games Conference in Hall 6, Stand A54.