Since we started Merkator a couple of years ago we have never been waiting a postal delivery with less patience than we did the past few weeks. Hence our whole office was visibly excited when our HoloLens finally arrived in the last week of August. We had the chance to start discovering the possibilities of the device, the hardware capabilities, and most importantly, the experience of Mixed/Augmented Reality.

 Unboxing the Hololens

unboxing-hololens

Unboxing the Hololens.

Let me kick in an open door here: the HoloLens is rather large, yes. People will make the odd Robocop reference once you wear it on your head. But is it uncomfortable when wearing for extended periods of time? No it isn’t. At least not when you assemble the headstraps correctly and take Microsoft’s advice about how to wear the device to heart. Once you attach the headstraps and extend the “brace” which rests on your head, you won’t even know you’re wearing it!

When you first boot it up, you’re asked to perform an intuitive calibration to calculate your inter-pupillary distance (IPD) in order to provide sharp holograms. This is where you immediately encounter a couple of the sensors that are located in the HoloLens: it contains pupil-tracking sensors, an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, multiple (environment) cameras, microphone, light sensor, motion tracking sensor and many more.

All these sensors ensure that the HoloLens functions properly and, more importantly, can work and understand you and your environment.

Windows Holographic

The Hololens works like your other windows 10 devices.

The Hololens works like your other windows 10 devices.

Since the HoloLens runs a ‘light’ version of Windows 10, called Windows Holographic, most users will feel comfortable in using the headset and will quickly find their way around. Making a simple ‘bloom’ gesture (a gesture that represents a blooming flower by closing your hand and opening all your fingers at the same time) opens up the start menu, which feels very Windows 10-like. From there, you can open the Store and check out the demo apps – more on those later – or change some device settings. You don’t necessarily have to make a gesture to open the Start Menu, you can just as simple talk to Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant which also exists on HoloLens.

 

Our first ‘augmented’ walk through the Merkator building

Mapping the Merkator building.

A screenshot showing how HoloLens mapped our office. You can distinguish walls, windows and even staircases.

The first thing we did once we had it up and running was to take a look at the HoloLens apps that came with the device and are included in the Store. There is an app that takes you on a virtual tour through our Galaxy, an app which takes you to Machu Picchu, there’s even a small game that turns your living room into a full-on robot invaded battleground!

While they are nice apps and cool tech demos, we were more impressed by what happened behind the scenes. Whenever you start the HoloLens, it recognizes where you are and starts scanning your environment in 3D. It does this to understand where the walls are, the floors and ceiling, doors, tables, chairs, etc. Why? Because it needs to have a basic understanding of surfaces, so it knows where Holograms can be placed in your surroundings – you can place windows, like the Edge browser for instance, on walls or surfaces, so the HoloLens needs to know where your surfaces are so that windows aren’t floating in the air.

 

Building our first Merkator App

playing-around-with-the-hololens

Playing around with a notepad and balls in your own environment. Without cleaning it up afterwards.

After getting to know the look and feel of the HoloLens, we started building our own HoloLens app to better understand what the possibilities are and how we should approach the HoloLens in a business perspective. Nothing major, just a simple app with objects that are located in a scene and interact with it. We decided to build a simple tutorial app with a notepad, some paper planes and some paper balls. Even here, we’re pretty impressed. It didn’t take us very long to let all those objects interact with the 3D map of our building that the HoloLens started doing once we turned it on the first time: we put the notepad on a table, and assign gravity to the paper balls. Once we clicked the paper ball (a click is done by simply looking at the object and tapping it with your finger), the gravity turned on, the ball fell down and interacted with the furniture. One time it rolled along the table, fell down on a chair, to finally end up on the floor. Another time – we placed the notepad hologram on the ground – the paper ball ended up underneath a sofa. HoloLens detected the sofa and knew the paper ball was underneath an object, so it didn’t display that paper ball hologram anymore, since it was obscured by another object. Impressed? Extremely!

What’s next?

Is it an understatement to say that the sky is the limit here? Very much so. We see possibilities for the HoloLens in basically all the markets segments we serve. Next step is to discover some network infrastructure of our customers though the Hololens.

A breakdown of Microsoft’s HoloLens and its sensors (don’t try this at home)

A breakdown of Microsoft’s HoloLens and its sensors (don’t try this at home)