Posted January 23, 2015

Microsofts Hologoggles put researchers on mars

A new gadget by Microsoft is making some space researchers very happy. When Microsoft presented features of Windows 10 the other day - the upcoming version of its operating system - 'Redmond' also demonstrated the HoloLens. The HoloLens can be seen as a set of Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles that you can see right through. So where the Oculus Rift (and many knockoffs) lock you up inside a 3D virtual world. Microsofts HoloLens projects an virtual scene on top of the real world.

According to reviews of the first demo, and if the videos below are any indication, they have done a very good job. You can put virtual objects on your real table. Hang a virtual flatscreen television set on your real wall - and use it for a Skype conversation. You can interact with virtual objects by pointing or looking at them. It's Oculus Rift without the weirdness and isolation. It's, well, augmented reality.

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An interesting detail is the fact that the HoloLens doesn't need to be connected to a computer. It comes with its own computer that you wear around your neck. Whether that's an ergonomically good idea remains to be seen, and what about battery life? But that's for version 2.0, probably.

While version 1.0 will be on the market later this year, several partners of Microsoft's have already found use cases. Gaming is a no-brainer. Interior design is another. And a very interesting one is science in general (archaeology comes to mind) and space in particular. In fact, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab have used HoloLens to walk around on Mars, in scenery generated from Mars rover data. As if that weren't enough, two persons strolled there together and discussed one rock they were studying, while they were physically in different places. In the videos below you can see them do so. Since 3D data of astronomical objects (how about Rosetta's Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko?) are the new normal, soon these moonwalks can be routine.

So fine, Microsoft, let's have this product and do great things with it for entertainment and science. But please, don't call these virtual scenes and objects 'holograms.' That's trendy bullshit. They're no more holograms than what you see with an Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR strapped to your head. A hologram is a 3D image made by laser light on a photographic plate and since we already have words like 'virtual' and 'augmented reality' there is no need to confuse things.

Otherwise, congrats on a great invention.

About Herbert Blankesteijn

Herbert Blankesteijn is a technology journalist from the Netherlands who has written for many prominent Dutch newspapers. He presented and directed television and radio programmes and has 10 books to his name. Herbert is interested in nascent fields such as 3D printing, drones, robotics and the private space business.