Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft insists on calling AR and VR ‘Mixed’ Reality. Maybe we should too.

Microsoft insists on calling AR and VR ‘Mixed’ Reality. Maybe we should too.

Back in 2015, when the the world was just beginning to pay serious attention to virtual reality, Microsoft surprised everyone by announcing HoloLens. Instead of surrounding you with virtual imagery – like Oculus and every other VR company – HoloLens brought the digital world into the real. To date, it remains one of the coolest things Microsoft has ever made.

But along with HoloLens came Mixed Reality, a term that seemed to confuse pretty much everyone not working in Redmond. ‘Virtual’ and ‘augmented’ reality were the established lingo, and HoloLens seemed to be just a fancy form of the latter. ‘Mixed’ reality reeked of marketing buzzword, it sounded lame, and so I avoided it as much as possible.

Now I’m starting to budge. In the last two years – culminating in this week’s Build conference – Microsoft has laid out a foundation for its grand scheme to fundamentally change how we interact with our devices. Knowing why Microsoft so stubbornly adheres to mixed reality is crucial to understanding how it plans to get there.

HoloLens was just the start.

Mixed Reality includes AR, VR, and beyond

Over the past few months, I’ve had several discussions about mixed reality with Greg Sullivan, Director of Communications for Windows and Devices at Microsoft. In each, he’s repeatedly drilled into my head the idea that mixed reality is a spectrum – one that encompasses VR, AR, and everything in-between. In fact, the term has academic origins that long predates modern virtual experiences.

So no, you’re not wrong to call HoloLens an AR headset, it’s just that AR is but one part of the mixed reality spectrum. The term also encompasses a wealth of other device categories:

  • Fully immersive VR headsets like Rift, Vive, and Microsoft’s offerings coming later this year.
  • Camera-based AR, like Snapchat’s funky masks or games like Pokemon Go.
  • Augmented virtuality experiences, whereby real-world elements are brought into a virtual experience.
  • Potential future devices, that can do the best of both worlds, changing between being opaque like Rift, or transparent like HoloLens.

While HoloLens happens to be an AR device, Microsoft would be doing itself a disservice to limit its scope to that bit of spectrum. HoloLens was the first device in the Windows Mixed Reality platform, which seeks to enable immersive experiences in all the above form factors.

But why go with HoloLens first? After all, VR headsets seemed to have more immediate consumer applications for things like gaming, and are a lot less expensive to produce than HoloLens.

According to Sullivan, Microsoft wanted to start by solving the more difficult problem. VR headsets have the luxury of obscuring the real world. You can create more interesting experiences with some environmental interaction, but VR can be fun even while your feet are stationary.

HoloLens, on the other hand, required an understanding of the environment around the user. It was a deeper problem to solve, but one that would reap rewards; Sullivan says Microsoft used what it learned from HoloLens to create affordable VR headsets that beat the competition to the punch with inside-out tracking.

That means that, unlike Oculus and Vive, Microsoft’s partner VR headsets can map your movements in the real world without the need for messy external sensors. I’ve spent a fair amount with the…

What to expect from Microsoft Build 2017

Developer conference season has officially kicked into high gear.

Microsoft Build is about to get underway, and we’re expecting the show will be as jam-packed with news as ever.

This year Microsoft has moved the conference back to Seattle after holding it in San Francisco for a number of years. Whether the location — right in Microsoft’s backyard — is a hint the company has more than usual in store for us isn’t clear.

But we do know there will be a ton of news to fill the four and a half hours (!!!!) of keynotes and then some. For now, here’s a rundown of everything we’re expecting.

Windows

If there’s one certainty about Build it’s that we’ll hear about what’s next for Windows. Last year at Build we got our first look at the Windows 10 Creators Update, which had been given the nickname Redstone 2.

This year, we expect to hear about what’s reportedly nicknamed Redstone 3. (Build is also when we typically find out the official name of the next version of Windows, too.) There hasn’t been much in the way of leaks about what will be in Redstone 3, but expect improvements on last year’s features as well as updates to core services like Office and its Edge browser.

Rumor has it the company is also planning a massive update to the look and feel of Windows with a new design language codenamed “Project Neon” (as with Windows, we’ll likely hear the formal name at Build). Windows’ first major design update in years, Project Neon will bring back transparent effects to Windows. More importantly, as PCMag points out, it will also make it easier for Microsoft to translate Windows across other platforms, like HoloLens.

Bots + AI

We already know Microsoft wants to put AI everywhere, and that plan will no doubt continue at Build. During the keynote we’ll hear not only about what’s going on in the labs of Microsoft Research, but…

Microsoft’s HoloLens gets a new medical app using augmented reality for spinal surgery

Augmented reality (AR) isn’t just for Pokémon Go and Snapchat masks, the technology will can have practical applications in areas like medicine, too.

At least that’s the promise of the new Scopis Holographic Navigation Platform, which is designed to be used with the Microsoft HoloLens to help doctors perform spinal surgery.

The company claims that its system can use 3D tracking with the HoloLens to help accurately find…