Friday, January 23, 2015

5 Ways Project HoloLens May Change the World

Ok. So I have just right-clicked the word “HoloLens” and selected Add to Dictionary from the context menu. I believe that this word will be there for a while, and sooner or later, on everybody’s lips.
In case you have been out of touch with technology news in the past several days, HoloLens is Microsoft’s newest device, still in its earliest development phase, which has been unveiled for the first time (after many super-quiet years of secret development) at Microsoft’s Windows 10 Event in Redmond, VA.

Meet HoloLens

HoloLens is Microsoft’s leap in to the virtual reality – or rather Augmented Reality – arena. Wearing HoloLens will allow you to view the reality around you, with holographic images, videos and even sound overlaid on your surroundings, allowing you to interact with it with natural gestures and voice commands. Imagine being able to see a video on a virtual screen where your wall should be, or a floating instructor – either virtual or a real person on a Skype call – along with arrows and guidelines for, say, fixing a sink. Imagine your game world overlaid on your real world!
There are a lot of different ways to use HoloLens, or a similar device, and most people whose comments I’ve had the misfortune of reading, seem to see a cross between an even weirder-looking Google Glass, and Yet-Another-Gaming-Console-That-Will-Never-Replace-The-Controller-We-Already-Have.
I disagree. I think that the sheer number of possibilities such technology can offer is mind-staggering and goes far beyond gaming and taking pictures and videos of others on the street without the subjects knowing it.
The following list comprises what I believe may be the five most pronounced ways that HoloLens can change how we interact with the world around us.

1. Virtual Privacy

Not my office. Just a picture off the netMany people in various industries are victims of what seemed to bean-counters like a great idea. Cubicles, bullpens, hotel-desks. No matter how you call them, Work environments where people who are not collaborating on the exact same task are forced to endure noise and distractions from others are detrimental to productivity. At my current job I sit at my (small) desk, and am surrounded by people who are almost constantly on support calls that 90% of the time have nothing to do with me. There are also at least one man and one woman who seem to be chattering about non-work related issues, at least half of the day, everyday. The noise is annoying. Add to that the fact that there’s no privacy – my calls, my screen, etc. Personally, I hate having to think that someone may be looking over my shoulder while I’m browsing, reading, coding or answering emails (unless I asked them to). Finally, I miss the gigantic whiteboard that I had in my office, the last time I actually had an office. Just something that I could always look up to from my screen, so that I can verify or validate some design decision. So I work from home as often as I can (though I still miss my whiteboard. My wife just won’t let me put up one in the living room where I work…).
Only at home, while I do have my privacy,  I only have my (two) laptops – no 24” screen (its on my shopping list), much less two of them. And my really good keyboard and trackball mouse are at the office.
Enter HoloLens! Imagine coming in to work and putting on your HoloLens and sitting down at your… virtual office. That giant whiteboard? Hang it wherever you want. Might as well share a virtual strip of wall with anyone else in your office. It doesn’t matter. You see your whiteboard, I see mine. Or just hang it in the air. Look up to it any time you want from your 24” screen. No! Make it 48” or have several of them. It’s virtual anyway. Ever wanted your emails to be announced just not on your screen because you’re coding now? No problem – they can float off to the left, if you want. Your office can look however you want it.
Just add some pluggable noise-cancelling earphones to the rig (hear that Microsoft? I want to be able to plug noise cancelling earphones into my HoloLens!) and that annoying chatterbox may as well be on the other side of the world, for all of me.
And did I mention the privacy? Nobody looking over your shoulder. They can’t see your (virtual) screen unless you share it.
Oh, and for the bean-counters out there – as soon as this device hits the $2,000 mark, it will probably be cheaper to buy than the desktop, desk and cubicle that your office currently has.

2. One office to rule them all!

Moving on to #2, and moving home from the office. If you, like me, work a few days at the office, a few days at home, and a few days at the local Starbucks (or wherever you choose to water your horses), you know that having a decent laptop and VPN is crucial to get any work done, but you may have to decide between shelling out extra cash for having the same office set up at home as you do at work, or do without the comforts that you have at one location or another. You may decide to buy a decent monitor for home, and the same keyboard, but you are definitely going to have to live without your 2 x 24” setup whenever you go to work at the coffee shop.
Enter the – you guessed – HoloLens! Just lug that HoloLens from your office to home (and even to the coffee shop if you aren’t concerned about looking like a dork), and you can have the exact same office setup anywhere you are.

3. Training and teaching

Ever had to explain to someone else how to do something? Ever had to do that when you were out of reach? 10 miles or half a world away, as is often my case, something always seems to go wrong just as soon as I’m away. The farther I am, the greater the problem. I go to work – any my smart TV cannot connect to the internet, leaving my baby daughter unable to watch her favorite YouTube nursery videos (mainly “Twinkle, twinkle little star”, and “Peanut Butter Jelly Time!”) on the big screen (#FirstWorldProblems). I’m out of state? The thermostat doesn’t turn on the furnace (and it’s below freezing outside). Did I leave the country? The garbage disposal unit won’t work.
My wife is very capable, but I have a bit more of a knack for figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it. I could guide her, if only I could see what she sees, and show her what to do…
Enter – yet again – HoloLens! Skype + some virtual whiteboard tool, and I can see the sink as she does, point out where to stick that screw driver, see what’s happening and adjust my guidance without her having to describe what’s happening. Think Remote Assistance, only outside the computer!
Imagine a doctor training for a complex operation. Just put on the HoloLens and bring up a virtual body. Do the operation 100 times until you get it right, then swap for a real body. Keep the HoloLens on, for real-time guidelines on the procedure…

4. Design!

imageWhen Tony Stark designed his Mark-II suit (yes – that scene in his basement lab), a new era of imagining how we design products – forget flat rendering of 3D objects with blueprints on paper. Let’s have the objects floating in the air right in front of us! Zoom in, zoom out, step inside, turn it around – we can really understand what the design looks.
3D Modelling will be come a much more natural process, and design verification will be much better. We’ll be able to see what something actually looks like before we make it.
And speaking of seeing what something looks like, and speaking of Iron Man, imagine trying on a suit or a dress before you buy it. In the comfort of your own home.

5. P0rn

Let’s not pretend that it won’t change this world.

Closing thoughts

I am mostly psyched up about the first two options! Productivity in the work environment is a key concern for me. I believe that improvements there will ripple out to everything else we do.
I’m sure that there are other amazing ways people can improve whatever is near and dear to their hearts with the aid of augmented reality. What would you do if you had a working and stable version of the HoloLens?

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