HoloLens promises new horizons in tech-aided visualization

Matt Heisler


In a commercial for the The HoloLens, Microsoft’s head-mounted holographic computer, the announcer asks, “What if we can blend the digital world with your actual world?”  

This concept is what sets the HoloLens apart from other headsets, such as the now defunct Google Glass, which essentially was just a smartphone disguised as glasses, and the Oculus Rift, which is a digital gaming device.

So, just what is Microsoft’s new HoloLens?  The HoloLens is a completely self-contained unit, which means there are no cables or wires nor need for a computer or other device to interact with it.  It is powered by Windows 10, the newest Microsoft operating system. The glasses have a built-in CPU and GPU, but most impressively, they also have the first of its kind HPU, holographic processing unit.

This wearable computer is more powerful than a laptop but doesn’t overheat thanks to vents built into the side of the glasses, which vent the warm air out.

The holographic images are not actually projected into the room, but onto the goggles, so only those wearing the goggles will be able to see the images.  Similar to the Xbox Kinect, the HoloLens has an interface with gestures, but it also has voice and gaze interfaces, where sensors can track where you are looking and adjust the display.  Because the HoloLens will have no keyboard, the voice and gesture controls must work perfectly before bringing it to the marketplace, or it will be a big flop.

NASA has been one of the early supporters of this project and plans on using it as “hands-on” training for its space explorers.  Several members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory moved to Redmond, WA, Microsoft’s headquarters, to build a Mars simulation using the HoloLens.  But, perhaps the first app Microsoft will launch with the new headset is, Minecraft. Microsoft paid billions of dollars to acquire Minecraft in September and must have had this application in mind.  The only thing Microsoft has not revealed about the HoloLens is how much it will cost.

Microsoft has promised its HoloLens will provide new ways to visualize work, share ideas, and immerse yourself in play, but to do so you will be required to wear a computer weighing about the same as a bike helmet on your face.  However cool this idea seems, price, comfort level, and a flawless operating system will ultimately decide if the HoloLens will be a success.