Microsoft’s HoloLens offers brief glimpse into the future

Courtesy Microsoft

On my last day attending Microsoft’s developer conference I found myself in a hotel room—which had been converted into a makeshift locker room—with a small group of journalists.

Microsoft (MSFT) had invited me to try out HoloLens, the company’s futuristic headset capable of overlaying your real-world environment with interactive, three-dimensional images.
Guests invited to the demo were issued strict instructions that included leaving all belongings (like smartwatches and phones) in provided lockers before they could use the device.

Naturally, I accepted the invitation (and its rules) without any hesitation. In fact, I risked missing my flight back home in order to gaze into the future with it.

For the first few minutes, Microsoft employees escorted us from holding room to holding room, broadcasting every move across two-way radios sitting atop their hips. Eventually, a guide escorted us into a room with a HoloLens headset just a few feet away from the entrance; the future was so close! But first, I had to sit through a brief lesson about how to use the HoloLens and interact with holograms.

Once familiar with how to adjust the headset and the three ways individuals can engage with holograms (either through gaze, gestures and voice) I was led into the last hotel room of the day. Inside the room was a table containing a landscape model decorated with plastic trees. In the middle of the display was a large empty space.

My guide then asked me to pretend, if for just a few minutes, I was an architect entrusted with designing a building that would fill the model’s void and how I would do that using a combination of both old and new technology.

Minutes later after going over my plans with my guide I was handed a HoloLens headset. I was then tasked with using a Windows computer and mouse to make adjustments to a 3D building on a computer screen; a similar process architects use now.

While in the midst of working, I was asked to look at the landscape model again, only this time the building I was designing was now a holograph in the middle of the table. Any adjustment I made on the computer screen was instantly reflected on the table.

A click here, a click there and I was designing my own building using a holograph and computer mouse; it was amazing.

Afterwards I continued my imaginative journey as an architect, only now I was in charge of dealing with issues discovered during the construction process. I was reviewing 3D blueprints that had been super imposed onto a hotel wall when a message icon popped up pulsing, begging for my attention. A quick raise of my hand and downward motion with my index finger played a voice note left by a virtual contractor who had discovered a construction issue.

A load-bearing beam was behind a wall where I planned to install a door. A holographic expert advised me on what to do next and walked me through the suggested fixes. Every change he mentioned was reflected in real-time, as if the contractor was moving tonnes of steel and brick himself, and provided a realistic view of what the changes would look like.

And, just like that, as quickly as it started, my HoloLens experience came to an end—my time was up. I gathered my belongings from the locker and rushed to an elevator intent on catching a cab to the airport. As I sat in the cab, nervously watching for traffic alerts on Maps, the realization of what I had just experienced started to sink in.

Even after my experience, there are so many unknowns surrounding HoloLens. It was fun using the device, but I’m not sure if it’s something I’d find useful on a daily basis. There’s a lot of potential for HoloLens to transform our world, but only time will tell how big an impact the technology will have on consumers’ lives.

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