Futuristic technology like virtual reality has fascinated me more than ever since I joined Code and Craft. After discussing the endless possibilities VR awaits us, I could only image what it must be like interacting with the world around us through augmented reality. One Friday afternoon I decided to visit the Microsoft Store on 5th Avenue to try out their HoloLens.
The only experience I have in this space is interacting with the HTC Vive and Google Daydream. However this is VR, where you’re transported into another world. Augmented reality allows you to interact with holograms in your current environment and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since I haven’t explored AR much. The Microsoft store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan has a HoloLens experience where a few lucky people get to demo the device for about an hour. We were escorted to another floor by elevator, sat in comfy leather chairs and watched a video tutorial on how to operate the device. Afterwards we were taken into different rooms, each that allowed us to experience HoloLens in various ways.
The first room allowed us to interact with a Volvo car. We were able to see a hologram of the sketch, which faded into an actual, finished model of the car. They demoed sensors and how it would interact on the road with obstacles and new technology. The second room allowed us to spatially map the area to play a first person shooter game. Alien robots broke through the wall and flew in the air while shooting at the player. Luckily my Battlefield 4 skills payed off and I completed the game with the highest score. The third room allowed us to interact with objects that were placed around the room. This included videos, pictures, holograms of pets and a dinosaur that roared before it fell over on it’s side.
Here’s a reflection on my hour-long experience using the HoloLens.
After watching the tutorial video, one thing that stood out was how simple and intuitive it is to operate the device. You’re able to adjust the device for the perfect fit around your head and it also adapts to people who wear glasses. While I did have some troubles making sure my device wasn’t sliding down my forehead a bit, I realized that I had to tighten it much more than I expected. It wasn’t an uncomfortable grip, but I was certainly reminded that I was wearing the headset. Another thing that made this experience great was that the device is untethered. I didn’t have to worry about how far I walked or tripping over any cables.
To interact with the device, you simply use the gaze, gesture and voice commands.
Gaze allows you to navigate a cursor in the middle of the display around your environment. This cursor acts as your selection point. The field of view in the display is much smaller than I anticipated. I ran into issues where the holograms were cut off around the edges from the small display. To correct this, I had to take a few steps back from the holograms so they’d fit in my view. It would be great if the field of view was closer to my peripheral vision, however I read somewhere that this was a design decision to decrease display power consumption.
Gesture allows you to hold your hand up a foot or two away from your face on the left or right side, and perform a few commands such as tap and bloom. I noticed if my hand was too close or too far away, the sensors wouldn’t recognize it.
Voice commands allow you to speak to the HoloLens. When I was playing the first person shooter, I realized I was saying my commands twice because they never triggered on the first time. An issue I had was that there wasn’t any feedback given to me to let me know that the microphone was activate. A simple, unobtrusive beep or visual notification would have sufficed for feedback.
The device has built in speakers that allow you to hear holograms in your environment. This was a nice feature that I didn’t expect, since the Vive and Daydream require your own headphones. The speakers aren’t the greatest in sound quality, however for the first release of this device, it’s acceptable. I do hope the audio quality is better in later releases though, since sound is crucial for a truly immersive experience.
While interacting with the Volvo model, they showed us how the sensor system would detect objects all around the car to notify the driver. While I was walking along the left side of the car, the left sensors were activated. As I walked towards the back of the car, the back left sensors activated. Interacting with holograms is cool but what really blew my mind is how each user has their own experiences with the same holograms.
While I was interacting with the left side of the car, the other person with me was interacting with the right side of the car. The hologram experience I had was personal, and in no way changed the experience for the other users. I never saw the right side sensors activate even though the other person did.
When spatially mapping the second room, a web like pattern was projected outwards in front of me. This pattern reacted to the objects in the room by molding around objects in real time and made me feel like I was in a sci-fi movie. A very cool effect indeed! When the aliens floated off the wall and flew around the room shooting at me, it felt very natural, almost as if they were real. I was fully immersed in the experience of defending my self and dodging laser beams.
My experience using the HoloLens was wonderful and has certainly peaked my interest even more. Lately I’ve been thinking about what goes into designing a great experience and user interface with the various commands HoloLens supports. Because the technology is so new, and only a handful of developers have the HoloLens, I’m very excited to see what the future holds and what design patterns emerge. If you’re in NYC, I would highly recommend trying the HoloLens for yourself because the future is amazing.