How Microsoft Is Sowing the Seeds of an Augmented Reality Future

May 31, 2017

In less than ten years, people will routinely interact with digital graphics and holograms beamed onto the real world.

That’s according to Lorraine Bardeen, Microsoft’s (msft) general manager of Windows and HoloLens experiences. Speaking Wednesday at the annual AWE conference for augmented reality in Santa Clara, Bardeen discussed why Microsoft sees the nascent technology becoming the next way people use computers beyond mobile touchscreens or the standard keyboard and mouse.

Opposed to virtual reality, augmented reality technology lets people see digital imagery overlaid onto the physical world. Microsoft refers to AR as mixed reality, and it is still a relatively new phenomenon that generated much interest after the popularity of last summer’s blockbuster mobile game Pokemon Go.

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Over the past year, major companies like Facebook (fb) and Google (goog) have indicated they will incorporate AR tech in significant ways. Facebook, for example, debuted in April new developer tools and features that lets users apply filters to their photos to add special effects, like cartoonish mustaches.

One way Microsoft is trying to popularize AR tech is by revising its classic Paint app to let people draw and design 3D graphics as opposed to traditional two-dimesional images, Bardeen explained. Getting more general consumers—not just tech professionals—familiar with creating 3D graphics “is a fundamental building block” to popularizing AR because it helps accustom the general public to interacting with 3D content.

This fall, people will be able to project their 3D graphics created via the revamped Paint app onto the real world via Windows 10-powered PCs with standard cameras, Bardeen said. Of course, they will have to view the digital images through their computer’s monitor, but Bardeen said it would help the “hundreds of millions of people” who don’t have the appropriate headsets interact with AR tech.

Bardeen also showed a video of Microsoft’s custom studio, a small enclosure surrounded by 106 cameras being used to create 3D imagery people can embed in their apps. By capturing the motion of a person kicking a soccer ball or even a llama slowly walking, Microsoft can then convert those images into digital graphics that people will be able to see overlaid onto the real world with HoloLens or certain Windows 10 PCs.

Bardeen added businesses could use these stock images for purposes like “fan engagement” or “corporate training” similar to how they use traditional stock photography.

However, Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset that beams digital imagery onto the physical world is not available to the general public. Right now, it is only available for developers or businesses for $3,000 and $5,000. Although Bardeen did not say when Microsoft plans to sell the HoloLens to the public, she said new AR headsets released later this year via partnerships with other manufacturers will be “an entry point into this future of computing.”

Some of the companies slated to release these headsets by year’s end include Dell and Lenovo, although none of the companies have said how much they will cost.

Story updated June 1 at 11:20 AM PST to clarify that there are no specialized PC cameras required for the revamped Paint app.

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