Microsoft’s HoloLens Presents A Bold Near-Future For Augmented Reality

Microsoft’s announcement yesterday of a new holographic augmented reality headset, HoloLens, has ignited huge excitement for the next era of computing. Following on from CES in Las Vegas earlier this month – where virtual reality transitioned rapidly from concept to commerce – the wireless headset is bringing the future of experience design even closer.

Virtual, augmented, and ‘real’ reality will blur, with users realising that the distinction was never that important to begin with.

The HoloLens is still in development, with no consumer release date announced yet, but the possibilities it presents are vast – from gaming to marketing, product design to everyday interactions. Press images show users scrolling through news feeds, bringing Skype to life, and following step-by-step visual demonstrations to fix things around the home.

With developers set to receive their first test headsets this July, we can expect to see retailers and brands experimenting with the technology sooner rather than later. The headset could prove a particularly useful tool for translating the Internet of Things into a more immersive, tangible experience for consumers – as well as offering clear opportunities for travel marketing and innovative brand experiences. Combined with haptic technology and multi-sensory breakthroughs such as digital taste and scent, there is no limit to what developers could work on.

Microsoft HoloLens works with Windows Holographic, a new operating system, to scan the room around it and build an image of the space, which it then uses to project holograms of light onto relevant areas – so that holographic objects interact convincingly with the physical objects in the room. The headset uses gaze-tracking and voice control to guide interaction, although users can also use a mouse and a computer screen, or tap the air with a finger to activate a cursor.

Demo application Holobuilder brings the qualities of Minecraft to the physical world, overlaying spaces with building blocks that you can manipulate. Another demo replicates the surroundings of the Mars Curiosity Rover, transplanting you onto another planet so that you can interact with the sand, rocks and sky of Mars.

The headset doesn’t win many points for style – resembling a heavy pair of ski goggles, it comes with a processing unit that hangs around your neck – but in its first iteration, it doesn’t really need to. Users will be so enthralled by the experience it presents that fashion-led interpretations can – and will – follow in later stages, when early adopters have tweaked it to appeal to the mass market.

For more insight on how computing is moving from the screen to the world around us, Homebuildlife subscribers can read our Design Futures report, New Interfaces, and our full trend and innovation report from CES 2015.

– Sarah Housley

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