Whilst in Parma giving a talk in the Spatial Audio research meeting, I had a chance to play with Microsoft Hololens! In case you have not been following the tech news in the past few years, Hololens is a Augmented Reality headset (not to be confused with Virtual Reality) which blends digital information (e.g. virtual objects, graphical user interfaces, etc.) in the physical environment, allowing the users to experience a “mixed reality” world.
The idea of AR is not new, but two things really got me excited about Hololens: 1) handsfree AR experience, allowing users to use both hands to interact with the mixed reality world, 2) its ability to scan and understand the physical space.
Having tried it, I can say something about these two points. Handsfree experience is well executed to a certain extent. I can point, pinch, swipe digital information quite smoothly. However the tradeoff is that you now have to wear a whole computer on your face, and it is not pleasant at all! In fact, even within a few minutes, my face/head hurt and I cannot imagine myself using it for more than 30 minutes.
The second point on Hololens having “spatial understanding” of the physical environment is what sets Hololens and other AR applications (e.g. Pokemon Go) apart, and this is what makes AR more technologically challenging than VR. Hololens is able to scan a physical room and and map the information digitally in 3D. This is a very important point, as having this digital spatial information allows Hololens to superimpose digital stuff more precisely onto the physical world. For instance, if we would play Pokemon Go on Hololens, the Pokemon would appear on a surface of a room, e.g. on top of a table, instead of just at the centre of the screen regardless where in the room the user is looking at!
At its current price (3000USD), I don’t imagine any casual consumer jumping on it just yet, especially also given other well known problems, such as the small field of vision and low battery life.
I am however very excited by the future of this kind of wearable spatially-aware AR! In fact, we are currently working with a company called Daqri which manufactures a similar AR wearable device used in industrial environments.