TAB Talks is our programme of bi-monthly talks from leaders and tinkerers across creative backgrounds. Our industry heroes share their experiences and insight with us, swapping stories about the interesting ways they have applied technology and design to make things work better.
Last month, we had Jon Mallinson, Technical Designer for Microsoft’s Lighthouse London come to TAB HQ. He introduced us to Microsoft’s HoloLens and discussed the exciting potential of Mixed Reality. I was one of the lucky TABbers who got to tinker with the HoloLens headset, first hand. Below, I share my experiences and thoughts on where the future lies in the enterprise and consumer space.
Jon began his talk by explaining that there is no distinct line between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality; all ‘Mixed Reality’ experiences sit on a spectrum. For instance, if someone puts on an Oculus headset, she still experiences the physical limits of the room she’s in. If she switches to a movement- tracking headset such at the HTC Vive, her movements in the real world are reflected in the virtual world. Should she opt for a Snapchat filter, her experience is mediated through a phone screen. In short: all Mixed Reality experiences blend varying degrees of the real and virtual.
The Hololens is a landmark innovation in that it allows that little bit more of the real world in. It was hard not to draw Minority Report comparisons as Jon fitted each of us with the wireless headset, which overlays information and images onto a translucent visor.
Tinkering with the HoloLens
Jon next demonstrated how to ‘air tap’ into the demo programme - the Hololens is entirely handsfree, controlled using hand gestures in front of the visor.
Once tapped in, a ghostly futuristic aluminum and glass city perched neatly above the presentation space tabletop, whilst an audio narrative toured the sights of this virtual world. For a finale, animated fireworks shot from the tabletop city and exploded around TAB’s kitchen. Aside from it’s obvious utility when it comes to architecture and city planning, the entertainment value of HoloLens is undoubtable.
To see more of us tinkering with the HoloLens, check out the video below.
The question that hangs over any new technology is always, ‘but what‘s it good for?’ With the iPhone, it took several years before apps progressed beyond novelty beer drinking apps to fully-fledged services like Uber.
When people think Mixed Reality, they tend to think entertainment: immersive storytelling, and gaming experiences which blossom around the player. Mobile, console or PC games leave the player susceptible to a host of distractions - such as pets, doorbells and smartphones - but Mixed Reality games allow the player to fully immerse themselves and enter a flow state.
However, there are also clear use cases for Mixed Reality within the enterprise. At the office, we spend all day sitting at our desk for no better reason than the fact that our computer is there. Aside from the health risks of sitting, workers have long commutes, and the distractions of open plan offices to contend with. The promise of Mixed Reality, then, is the promise of freedom from the desk - to work anywhere; to collaborate with colleagues through conferencing that feels truly natural; to tune out distractions. A key part of the vision for Microsoft is its focus on the employee - and in particular, the world’s two billion-strong workforce whose job necessitates person-to-person interaction, such as retail assistants, nurses and bus drivers. For these frontline staff, the HoloLens has the potential to make working more enjoyable and empowering.
At present, Hololens is being used for everything from manufacturing stairlifts in Germany to helping people design their dream kitchen in the USA.
One story John shared is the the case of the former, Thyssenkrupps’ stairlift measuring and manufacturing process. This used to take weeks and require a complicated system of rulers and lasers to measure each individual stair. A millimetre off, and the mechanism won’t fit - rendering an expensive investment useless. Integrating the HoloLens introduced a quicker way to measure and send that measurement data straight to the factory. Speed, here, is a clear boon to the enterprise: the introduction of HoloLens has made Thyssenkrupp four times faster at producing stairlifts, from measurement, to production to fitting.
In the case of the latter, Lowe’s are using the HoloLens to help homeowners design their cabinets, before overlaying the design on a showroom kitchen in Mixed Reality. The prospective buyer can open cabinets or peer into drawers, on a model which looks exactly like her real, future kitchen. If she has a ‘Dream Kitchen’ Pinterest board, Microsoft’s cognitive computing services will sift through the images and build a design to her taste. Letting a homeowner step into their new kitchen is undoubtedly a more effective sales tool than simply showing them a rendering.
We’re in early days with Mixed Reality and there are many paths the technology might take. As one of the few emerging technologies with equal potential in both the enterprise and consumer space, there is no doubt that we will see a lot more from HoloLens very soon.
The future is bright...and semi-transparent.