Posey's Tips & Tricks

Why I Wasn't Surprised by Microsoft's HoloLens Reveal

Besides the timing of the announcement, many analysts and I saw this coming from a mile away.

The end of January saw Microsoft making an absolutely staggering number of revelations about Windows 10 and other upcoming releases. The announcements not only gave insight into what we can expect from Windows 10, but also about the direction that Satya Nadella intends to take the company.

Following the event, I spent a lot of time reading various tech blogs because I was curious as to what other tech analysts had to say about Microsoft's announcements. Naturally, each blogger seems to have their own unique take on things, but there was one thing that almost every blog post that I read had in common. Everyone said that they were surprised by Microsoft's HoloLens announcement.

I want to go on record as saying that I wasn't surprised by anything other than Microsoft's timing. I actually expected Microsoft to make an announcement like this several years ago.

Before I go on, let me briefly describe Microsoft HoloLens for the benefit of anyone who might not have seen the announcement. HoloLens will be a wearable computer that will be somewhat similar to the now defunct Google Glass. An untethered pair of glasses will display holographic imagery over top of the real world. Users will be able to interact with HoloLens by using gestures or by using voice.

When I said that I expected Microsoft to announce a product like HoloLens several years ago, I wasn't trying to make it look like I was the only analyst who got it right. Believe me when I say that I have made plenty of incorrect tech predictions over the years. Even my HoloLens prediction wasn't entirely correct. I wrote a column in 2011 in which I said that I thought that the technology would be based on 3D computer monitors and Windows 8. Instead, it's going to be based on a pair of glasses and Windows 10. The rest of my prediction however, was more or less on track.

At the time, my prediction was based on a few different things. The first of those things was obviously the availability of 3D televisions and computers with 3D monitors. Even back in 2011, I had a laptop that was equipped with a 3D display and a 3D video card.

A second thing that I considered when I made my prediction was the availability of head-tracking hardware. At the time when I wrote that particular blog post, I had been using a virtual reality headset to interact with Microsoft Flight Simulator and with Exciting Simulations Space Shuttle Mission Simulator. Even though the virtual reality headset that I was using at the time was nowhere as good as modern hardware such as Oculus Rift, it rendered images in stereoscopic 3D and it allowed you to move your head in various directions to virtually look around the cockpit. The effect was actually quite good. I let a friend try out the headset and use Space Shuttle Mission Simulator to try a spacewalk. He told me that the most frustrating thing about the experience was that if he looked down he could see his "virtual arms", but that the software didn't track arm or hand movement. Hence when he moved his real arms, the simulator arms did not respond.

This is where the third part of my prediction comes into play. At the time, Microsoft had just introduced Kinect for Xbox. Kinect was rapidly becoming the best-selling video game accessory ever. There were a lot of rumors at the time that it would soon become possible to control Windows 8 on a PC by using Kinect gestures.

At the time, I imagined a next generation space simulator that would not only provide stereoscopic 3D visuals and head tracking, but that would also respond to physical motion through a Kinect-like interface.

Obviously such a product doesn't exist yet, but I saw a couple of early proof-of-concept uses for the technology. The most impressive was a demo that was given by a mechanical engineer. The person giving the demo had used a CAD program to create a 3D drawing of a car engine. Using Kinect and a 3D monitor, the engineer was able to view the rendering in 3D, floating in the air in front of him. By using a Kinect sensor he could use hand gestures to rotate the drawing or to zoom in on a specific part of the engine.  I couldn't find a video of the demo on the Internet, but this video will hopefully give you an idea of what I am talking about.

It isn't exactly the same thing, but I saw another really impressive demo of how holographic technology can be used all the way back in 2010.

To say that this demo was impressive would be an understatement. Even so, Microsoft's HoloLens demonstration was even more impressive. In a live demonstration, someone used the HoloLens glasses to virtually construct a quadcopter. Microsoft also demonstrated how the quadcopter could be 3D printed and then flown.

Assuming that HoloLens lives up to what Microsoft has shown us so far, it will be one of the most powerful tools ever created. Imagination may very well be the only limit to what can be created using HoloLens.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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