Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 lets you manipulate holograms without a controller
Mixed reality is here to stay.
You remember all those ’90s-era sci-fi movies where characters put on a headset and had keyboards and UI suddenly pop into their field of vision? How about when they needed some how-to’s that overlaid on the physical thing they were trying to fix? That glimpse of the future is now here, with mixed reality headsets, like Microsoft’s newly-announced HoloLens 2.
Microsoft has substantially improved almost every aspect of the HoloLens headset, from fit to ease of use to field-of-view. New sensors in the headset can track your eye movements so it knows what you’re focusing on, you can sign in with Windows Hello (I mean, it is running Windows 10), and some nifty maths combine with a new “time-of-flight” depth sensor to track your hands, so you don’t need a controller to manipulate items. That last one is important, Microsoft is aiming the HoloLens 2 firmly at the workplace, so having both hands free opens up a world of possibility for use cases.
As you can see below, a natural pinching motion is used to resize the hologram. This ethos of invisible UI runs throughout the device, from the headset’s mounting strap (which uses one dial to adjust) to being able to press holographic buttons that behave like buttons, to the more natural gestures enabled by the Azure Kinect sensor.
The first HoloLens had an arcane catalog of awkward gestures that users had to learn because that’s all it could recognize. HoloLens 2 lets the user use instinctive movements like grabbing, pulling etc to manipulate the objects it projects onto your eyeballs.
The imaging system has been reworked, now instead of LEDs, lasers paint the view onto some nifty mirrors which then bounce the images to waveguides which in turn bounce them onto your retinas. This is a drastic oversimplification of the crazy amount of tech here, but all that cleverness adds up to simplicity for the user.
The one-dial adjustment is made possible by the waveguides, which let the HoloLens’ computer calculate where the focal point is for your eyes. Those eye-facing cameras also help adjust where the image goes, so it’s bounced exactly onto where your pupils are.
The end game for Microsoft is putting HoloLens tech into a pair of glasses that look exactly like any other set of frames in the opticians. That day might seem far off right now, but it’s fast approaching. While Microsoft doesn’t feel the tech is ready for consumer applications in its current state, one day you’ll be able to replace your desktop PC with a glasses-sized computer, likely with the HoloLens branding.
Oh, and if you’re a business customer, the HoloLens 2 is available for pre-order starting today, priced at $3,500.
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