Microsoft turned heads when it unveiled its new HoloLens at January’s Windows 10 launch event, but it also generated a lot of confusion. Many people are confused about what separates the HoloLens from products like Google Glass and the Oculus Rift. The HoloLens actually produces an experience called “augmented reality.” Augmented reality allows users to interact with virtual objects mixed in with their own surroundings rather than in a purely virtual space.
It’s an exciting piece of technology, to be sure, but where HoloLens truly shines is in its vast potential for real-world use. Here are just a few examples of real-world applications that could make HoloLens the next must-have piece of technology.
1. Remote Instruction
This use was demonstrated in the Microsoft HoloLens introductory video. Imagine getting step-by-step instructions on things like home repair from an expert. Visual diagrams would actually show up in space around the user indicating exactly what you need to do next. This application could even extend to the battlefield, where detailed medical instructions could be given to untrained personnel in the midst of combat.
This level of illustrated instruction could make getting the support you need much easier, and could even mean the beginning of a new industry of remote consulting experts.
2. 3D Computer-Aided Design
Imagine building a 3D model of pretty much anything you can imagine in the physical space around you. It’s similar to what’s seen in the movie Iron Man as Tony Stark interacts with holographic objects to build his devices (check out the video below…the only thing missing is the glasses) It’s also one of the ideas that has captured the imagination of many when it comes to the HoloLens.
Using the HoloLens to construct and design new products could be an important commercial use of the device, especially in the age of bring your own device (BYOD) policies in the workplace. All you need to do is send the design to a 3D printer, and your holographic model goes from concept to reality.
3. Gamification of Tasks
We all need a little extra motivation at times when it comes to exercising. The HoloLens has the potential to turn such tasks into a game. Think how much more fun you’ll have throwing jabs and hooks at a punching bag when your HoloLens is superimposing a boxer (or threatening mugger) over the bag. Or, imagine getting on your treadmill and replacing the world around you with interesting, interactive, scrolling scenery as you jog. By turning monotonous tasks into a game, HoloLens could make life much more exciting and help you build healthy, productive habits.
Gaming is another potential use that was shown off in the introductory video from Microsoft (whose recent history of innovation and improvements is impressive,) and the possibilities of using the HoloLens for gaming are fascinating. Several journalists were able to get a hands-on look at how this would work during the product’s launch event, and although the demo was rather basic, a fully immersive gaming experience is something gamers have been clamoring for for quite some time. Imagine playing a game like Minecraft using holographic models in your living room. HoloLens promises to make that happen.
Unlike Google Glass, HoloLens is first being geared for use mostly inside the home or office and not necessarily on the go. One way it can be helpful is by visualizing how new decorations would look in your house or apartment. No more trying to picture how that new paint color for your wall will look with your new couch; you’d actually be able to see it projected holographically and make the best decision for your living space. And instead of awkwardly holding a picture up while trying to gauge how it looks in a certain location, your HoloLens can show you exactly how it will look placed in any number of locations!
6. Holographic Attractions and Entertainment
Going to a haunted house during Halloween season is plenty fun, but if you wore a HoloLens, creepy attractions could become even scarier by integrating virtual elements that can’t exist in the real world. On a similar note, supporters of 3D movies have wanted to make the audience feel like part of the action for years. HoloLens could help them bring virtual elements into the space of the user.
This sort of thing could open up a whole new genre of mixed-reality entertainment, leveraging both real and virtual content to achieve the effect on the user. Roller coasters, haunted houses, movies, and laser tag could all be the basis of entirely new kinds of experiences.
7. Virtual Reality User Interfaces
People spend a lot of money on the latest, biggest, clearest flat screen televisions. But with the HoloLens you could use a number of virtual sceens of any size, saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars. You could even watch movies or browse the internet through a virtual screen no matter what part of the house you’re in (say, lying comfortably in bed). Physical screens and monitors may eventually become things of the past, as we transition to interfaces that exploit physical intuitions about the world and naturally fill the space around you.
8. Heads Up GPS
This would require further development on the HoloLens and even legislative approval (while smart devices are becoming even smarter, using devices like Google Glass while driving is still illegal) but a heads up GPS display would be incredibly helpful for drivers and pedestrians alike. You could see instructions and diagrams laid out on the road in front of you, giving you unambiguous instructions about where to go next.
These are just a few of the uses I can see coming for Microsoft’s new HoloLens headset. As with many new smart devices, the potential is enormous. But it will be up to developers and intrepid consumers to try it out and see if it lives up the hype.