Posey's Tips & Tricks

Making the Case for Augmented Reality

At first it might sound impractical for an enterprise setting, but there are quite a few ways in which augmented reality can be used by professionals.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I am intrigued by Microsoft HoloLens. To date, Microsoft has released some very compelling demos of what the technology can do. In all honesty, I don't think that we have even seen the technology used to its full potential yet. I am 100 percent confident that some of the very best use cases have not even been thought of yet.

Unfortunately, I have yet to actually get to try out a HoloLens device for myself (although I am trying to change that). Until somewhat recently, I had some concerns about the device. Some of the firsthand accounts that have been posted online from those who have supposedly used the device have been unflattering to say the least. I have seen terms such as limiting, laggy and impractical thrown around quite liberally.  To say that I was concerned for the device's future would be an understatement.

Now however, enough developers have been able to get their hands on the device, and posted videos of their work that I am starting to get a much better sense of what the devices are really capable of. A quick search of YouTube will show you what I mean. Based on some of the videos posted by independent developers, HoloLens does seem to be the device that we all hoped that it would be.

One of the things that kept coming up in some of the Web posts written by haters is that augmented reality is completely impractical and that it will never be possible to blend the real world with the digital world in any kind of useful or meaningful way. At the time that I read those comments I was skeptical, but decided to reserve judgment until I had experienced HoloLens for myself. Recently however, I came to the realization that not only can augmented reality be useful, it is something that I have experienced a number of different times without stopping to realize that I was actually using augmented reality. Let me give you a couple of examples.

One example is a heads-up display (HUD). As some of you know, I am currently training as a scientist-astronaut candidate for a space mission to study polar mesospheric (noctilucent) clouds. A couple of months ago, I flew a full-blown mission simulation. The simulator only holds two occupants --  a pilot and a scientist / mission specialist. I was taking on the mission specialist role. 

Even though I was sitting right next to the pilot, I couldn't initially pay much attention to what the pilot was doing. I had my own responsibilities to focus on, and wearing a fully pressurized spacesuit made each task more cumbersome than it otherwise would have been. After the simulated reentry however, my job was done and I was able to relax and watch what the pilot was doing. It was then that I began to watch the pilot's HUD. The HUD displayed key flight instrumentation such as altitude and airspeed, but as we got closer to the touchdown point, the HUD drew a big green marker on the optimal touchdown point on the runway. In other words, augmented reality was being used to overlay a digital image onto the real world in a meaningful and useful way.

I will be the first to admit that this particular implementation of the technology won't directly benefit most people, but HUD technology is starting to become more common in cars. BMW, Lexus and GM all have cars that are HUD equipped. The HUD functionality varies widely, but some common functions include displaying the speed limit, displaying navigation data and displaying recently received text messages. I have driven a number of these cars, and in most cases the HUD has actually proven to be useful as opposed to just being a novelty feature.

Consumer drones are also starting to use augmented reality. A few weeks ago, I visited a close friend who lives out of state, and we spent the afternoon flying drones. Because I was flying in an area that was completely unfamiliar to me, I became disoriented at one point and wasn't sure what direction to fly to return to the takeoff point. I still had direct line of sight with the drone as required by the FAA, but the drone was far enough from me that it appeared as little more than a dot in the sky and it was difficult to tell what direction I was flying without using the video feed. I could have used the drone's return to home function to get back, but I didn't have to. The drone's software uses augmented reality to mark the takeoff point. The monitor shows a live video feed from the drone, but there is a small blue marker that is overlaid onto the live video feed to show you where you took off from. This particular application of augmented reality worked flawlessly, and was incredibly useful.

My point is that augmented reality is not a Microsoft invention, and is not exclusive to HoloLens. The technology comes in many different flavors. Although I have never tried it out for myself, I have been told that even Pokémon Go is based on augmented reality. I think that over time, augmented reality will prove to be tremendously beneficial, and I for one am excited to see its future use cases with Microsoft HoloLens.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-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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