Microsoft Corp’s HoloLens goggles have hit a sweet spot between Google Glass and virtual reality headgear, immersing users in a mesmerizing world of augmented reality holograms.
The glasses, which the US technology titan sprang on unsuspecting media last week, elicited descriptions such as “magical” and “unbelievable,” the first time in a while such praise was heaped on a Microsoft creation.
The augmented reality goggles are a step in a different direction from virtual reality headgear such as Oculus VR’s Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus system, as well as Google Glass.
At private demos of HoloLens in a carefully guarded lower level of Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, cameras, recording devices and even smartphones were not permitted.
Microsoft executives said the holographic capabilities built into Windows 10 operating software — to be released late this year — would open doors for developers to augment tasks from complex surgery to motorcycle design.
In a captivating demonstration, a prototype HoloLens turned a room into the surface of Mars.
HoloLens wearers found themselves standing near a 3D representation of the Rover, free to roam Mars, at times accompanied by a NASA scientist projected into the scene and communicating through Skype.
“This is the future of space exploration,” said the scientist, represented by a glowing golden spacesuit reminiscent of vintage science fiction films.
NASA team members can use HoloLens to move about as if they were on Mars and figure out where they want the Rover to go and what they want it to do.
Through a series of scenarios, HoloLens overlaid virtual scenes on real space, allowing wearers to safely and efficiently navigate rooms while engaging with 3D imagery using voice, gaze or gesture. The headpiece tracks eye movements, and then lets wearers use a simple finger flick to interact with whatever they focus on.
Replacing a light switch became a collaborative effort, as one individual with a tablet computer guided the job, overlaying arrows or notes that floated in the air.
The room was then converted into an extension of the building-block themed game Minecraft, with castles on floors and tabletops. With voice commands and taps of the finger, a wearer built or destroyed, and sometimes vanquished zombies.
The Microsoft headgear even became a tool for designing virtual toys, which were then made real using a 3D printer.
HoloLens also promises scintillating integration with video games, and Microsoft has a broad and devoted fan base for Xbox consoles.
Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg has depicted virtual reality as a computing platform poised to succeed the mobile Internet era centered on smartphones and tablets — he backed his belief by buying Oculus VR last year in a US$2 billion deal.
As virtual reality headgear disconnects users from their immediate surroundings, some people worry about what is happening in reality, or what they might bump into.
By contrast, Google Glass essentially displays a miniature version of a smartphone screen in an upper corner of one lens.
People can glance to see text messages, video or other scenes in small displays, and also take pictures or video, controlling the eyewear with voice commands or taps on frames.
Google Inc recently ended sales of Glass through its Explorer program, but a cheaper and more fashionable version is expected to make it to market.
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