Microsoft shares HoloLens with students

LAST WEDNESDAY, MICROSOFT BROUGHT several HoloLens systems to RPI, giving students a taste of augmented reality at EMPAC.

When I first saw the HoloLens unveiling in January 2015, I was blown away. It was the first time I had seen anything related to augmented reality or AR, and I could not wait to get to experience it myself. I finally got the chance to do that on November 1, at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, almost three years after I first saw the HoloLens.

My expectations going into the event were somewhat high. I have experienced virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive and AR through my iPhone, so I knew a little bit about what to expect. I had hoped that the HoloLens would surpass the VR and AR I have tried but, unfortunately, it fell flat. Especially since the device costs $3,500, I was hoping for more.

The demo I tried was a simple one. The first scene was a slowly rotating Earth that I was able to walk around and view from different angles. The next scene was of our solar system. Each planet was labeled, and it was here that I saw a major annoyance with the device. If my head was stationary, the picture was fairly crisp. When I moved my head, as if I were turning to talk to somebody, the entire picture stuttered. This was especially noticeable with the words on screen stuttering as I moved. The final scene was the Milky Way galaxy, which while pretty, was not mind blowing.

It was at this point that I made my own path with the HoloLens. I somehow exited the demo and was greeted with a set of tiles similar to the Windows 10 start menu. I then launched Microsoft Edge. This brought up a floating pane that I was able to place, so I placed it on the wall. This pane stayed on the wall even when I looked away and looked back. Unfortunately, the HoloLens was not connected to the internet, so I was not able to do any browsing.

This aspect of the hardware is intriguing—to be able to place a TV screen that takes up my entire wall is an appealing concept, though the current hardware just is not up to the challenge. The viewing angle is too small, and the resolution is nowhere near high enough to compete with current TVs. Also, there was some level of transparency to the objects shown through the HoloLens, which does not lend itself well to some possible uses.

I attended the talk with Kayla Kinnunen, which was all right. It was a series of videos of how the HoloLens is currently being used, and potential uses for similar devices in the near future. The scenarios provided were interesting, but it all seemed like the technology was still too new to have a big effect on how I currently live. This problem is not limited just to the HoloLens though; current AR and VR can be gimmicky, also.

The technology, both software and hardware, that goes into the HoloLens is impressive. It is just that it is not mature enough yet. Kinnunen said in her talk that she hopes that, within the next decade, devices like HoloLens will be ubiquitous. During this decade, I expect the technology to jump leaps and bounds, just as smartphones did, and computers before them. I think that it will be an exciting thing to experience.