Last year, during Build 2015, I had the opportunity to try out Microsoft’s HoloLens for the first time.
That experience was very structured and under strict security. No cameras were allowed anywhere near the actual demo units we used nor were we allowed to actively tweet during the process. In fact, all of our electronic devices were secured in lockers before we even went near the HoloLens demo units/rooms.
Quite understandable for a device that had only been revealed to the public a few months earlier.
Well let me tell you the difference a year can make.
I had the opportunity to attend two different sessions with HoloLens at Build 2016. The first one, HoloLens Academy, was a compressed one-hour version of the three hour sessions that were being held for HoloLens Developers at Build this year.
In the shortened version of the academy we attended as press, scripts did the heavy lifting on the development side so that we could quickly jump into using HoloLens to interact with our pre-prepared holograms. Each step along the way took us from experiencing our own personal interactions with an energy portal hologram to a shared experience at the end that involved the same holographic energy portal and the addition of holographic avatars called Poly’s for each participant. In the end we collective blew up the energy portal which enabled us to peer through a holographic hole in the ground (floor) to see where our Poly’s lived. Of course, we could continue shooting at them and blowing them up as things continued.
We started this session off by being provided a locker to store all of our jackets, bags, etc. but cameras and smart phones were allowed inside the large room where the HoloLens Academy was taking place.
This room felt like a nightclub with music, ambient lights and about 8 to 10 seating areas that each accommodated 6 individuals. Each of us had our own workstation with Visual Studio and Unity running plus a HoloLens for us to use during the academy. Nearby there was a mentor, from the HoloLens team, for every two participants and they would help us through any issues, etc.
So we all sat down and other members of the HoloLens team walked us through step by step how to build these holographic experiences and through the course of about 5 segments we eventually ended up sharing a common experience amongst all six of us in my group.
We had the freedom to get up, walk around, cross the room to see how visible the hologram was and to take our own batch of HoloSelfies as we interacted with the holograms. In the end you could feel the buzz around the room as about 60 people went through this experience within their own groups.
In between sessions we were allowed to Tweet about the experience and even grab shots of the devices themselves as they sat plugged in at our work stations.
As I wrapped up my HoloLens Academy experience I came away with a new awareness relating to the Field of View (FOV) that was such an issue last year in my first HoloLens experience.
By the time we were interacting more with each other and the holograms for a shared experience, the less the FOV was an issue for me. Yes, it was still there but because I was starting to focus more on the shared experience through the device the more the FOV drifted into the background.
Shortly after wrapping up my HoloLens Academy time I headed down with another group of press to the Destination: Mars experience in The Hub expo floor. This augmented reality tour of Mars is the result of a commercial partnership between NASA and Microsoft and beginning this summer it will spend about six months at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida so visitors can experience Mars for themselves.
For our own experience, we were broken into groups of eight participants and giving about a 10-minute brief on donning and wearing HoloLens and what to expect. They then manually measured our Pupillary Distance (PD) so the HoloLens could be setup for us and then we entered an outer room that had a table with eight HoloLens waiting for us.
After getting the devices on and setup we were able to verify they were working by seeing a hologram of Mars and some of the orbiters that are at the planet.
We were then invited to enter a larger room, roughly 30 x 20 feet, where the main Destination: Mars experience would take place. We were told to feel free to move around and check things out in all directions.
As the experience began we were introduced to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in hologram form of course, who told us about Mars exploration and then he stepped away so we could explore this spot on Mars.
As I moved around the room, I received prompts on my HoloLens to turn in specific directions to learn about various features on the Red Planet. As short while later we were taking to another spot on Mars and able to see the Mars Curiosity Rover driving around as a NASA technician, who drives the rover for a living, talked to us about those challenges.
During this entire time, I moved around to experience the full holographic effect that was visible around the room as I turned my head and body to see everything through the HoloLens. Spatial sound on the device meant speaking and other ambient sounds arrived to my ear from the direction they originated in and made it easy to know what direction to turn in to see what was happening.
Just like when I was in the HoloLens Academy, the FOV quickly faded from my awareness and I spent more time enjoying the experience than worrying about that.
I was told they were handling upwards of 1,000 people daily in the Destination: Mars experience during Build and on the second day it was so popular that there was a serious running rush when The Hub opened so attendees could grab a spot in line or a ticket for later in the day. They also provided every participant the opportunity to have an image taken while wearing HoloLens after their visit to Mars. Like I said - so much for the
I believe that as any individual begins using the Hololens on a regular basis this same thing will happen as they adapt to the device and how it is best used for a holographic experience. Eventually it will become comfortable and a habit just like shifting from bi-focal to progressive glass lenses.
The freedom of movement that you get with an augmented or mixed reality device like HoloLens will allow you to move around without worrying about bumping into obstacles or walls which is a concern when wearing a virtual reality headset that blocks your entire view.
This device is set to revolutionize so many industries that I am not even sure we could sit and list them all right now however, now that HoloLens has started to ship to developers we are quickly going to learn just what type of creative applications are possible.