Microsoft hoped the HoloLens 2 announcement would be the biggest story about the company’s flagship mixed-reality (MR) headset line this week.
Two days before the news, however, more than 100 employees at the tech giant got widespread media coverage by signing and releasing a letter condemning the company’s $479m contract to provide 100,000 headsets to US Army soldiers.
The letter, addressed to CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith and entitled “HoloLens for good, not war”, called on the firm to cancel the contract and stop developing “any and all weapons technologies”. Under the contract, signed last November, the devices would be used for training and combat, providing “increased lethality, mobility and situational awareness”.
Two days later, the company revealed its HoloLens 2 device in Barcelona, ahead of the Mobile World Congress event. The new device more than doubles the field of view and uses new sensors and artificial intelligence to track hand movements without controllers. The upgrade also promises improved comfort, as it is built with light carbon fibre and includes easy adjustment.
The new headset is also designed exclusively for professional customers, not consumers. Since launching in 2016, the first iteration has already found use in many different engineering applications. Amid the controversy over military use, here are five of the most exciting and innovative things engineers can do with the headset.
The MR capabilities of the HoloLens made the headset an attractive tool for engineers and designers from the start, overlaying 3D virtual models over the real world to instantly contextualise designs.
Ford is just one of the car manufacturers to adopt the technology. The company’s designers use the HoloLens to blend clay models and physical production vehicles with 3D holograms projected within the headsets, letting them experiment with alterations and additions in a much quicker and more efficient way than before.
Look through walls
The Internet of Things (IoT) has made significant inroads into industry in recent years – but what is the point of all the sensors, data and digital twins if they cannot be projected mere centimetres from your eyeballs? Machinery monitoring is one of the most straightforward applications of HoloLens technology, taking advantage of the sheer volume of information produced in IoT systems to augment everyday work.
At IBM’s lab near Winchester, inventors used the headset in a demonstration augmented-reality program aimed at architecture, building management and maintenance. The demonstration effectively made walls seem transparent, revealing virtual pipes carrying fluid from a physical pump in the room. A water flow rate hovered to the left of the pump, changing in real time as it started leaking. The program showed workers where to focus or where to make holes, and also let them open manuals for the pump. The real-time data and instructions ensured that technicians had the right tools and training for the job.
Safe connected working
The newly announced HoloLens 2 includes a customisation program, letting companies partner with Microsoft to release customised devices. Trimble is the first such partner, and the firms are releasing a combined hardhat and HoloLens 2. The creation is aimed at the construction industry, giving workers a head-up display while protecting their skulls – and looking hyper-futuristic.
Training is one of the most widespread applications of virtual-, augmented- and mixed-reality programs. The technologies have transformed how and when it can be delivered, letting employers give workers step-by-step instructions while they are on the job.
This style of instant training is particularly useful for assembly, letting people essentially build anything if the instructions are clear enough. BAE and Microsoft partner PTC created a HoloLens guide to teach workers how to assemble a bus battery, for example. The companies said the training is 30-40% more efficient.
Plan space missions
Winner of NASA’s Software of the Year Award 2018 was Onsight, a program that uses images captured by the agency’s Curiosity rover to create a 3D ‘terrain model’ – a detailed re-creation of the Red Planet’s surface. The model can be explored through the HoloLens, letting the agency’s scientists check how safe or dangerous areas are as they plan rover missions. The software will also be adapted to work with NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.