All eight of the Microsoft HoloLens enterprise customer use cases ranked from best to worst
Microsoft has launched pre-orders for UK developers to get their hands on their latest piece of hardware, the mixed reality HoloLens headset.
HoloLens is not a consumer VR headset. For starters it costs £2,700, so the current use cases all apply to industry verticals, be it medicine, manufacturing, architecture, travel and leisure or entertainment.
The problem, and this is with HoloLens in general, is the virtual field of vision is so small, roughly like looking at a 24 inch screen from a metre away, that you can't immerse yourself in the surroundings, making the use cases very object specific, such as a jet engine or the human body.
Here we have ranked the eight HoloLens partner case studies listed on the Microsoft website so far, in a completely arbitrary way, from enterprise ready to shameless marketing gimmick.
1. Japan Airlines
Japan Airlines is using HoloLens to allow trainee engineers to view working holograms of jet engines without having to visit a hangar or take an expensive working component out of service.
Lauren Bissett from the HoloLens team starts her demo by saying "employees can experience realistic 3D training at scale. Learning to work on complex machinery that is hard to access, like a jet engine". Trainees can collaborate on the hologram either in the classroom or via Skype.
Verdict: This is pretty useful, and the point about training on components that aren't easy to get your hands on is very valid. A global company that uses Skype for training and teacher/student communications could definitely benefit from this sort of set up.
NASA's jet propulsion laboratory collaborated with Microsoft to create a piece of software called OnSight. As detailed by Jeff Norris, the OnSight project lead, they use HoloLens "to connect scientists and engineers with the environment of the Curiosity Mars Rover. Because we can't put our scientists physically on Mars, technology like this allows us to investigate what is possible if we can make them virtually present".
What this means is allowing staff to view a 3D image of the mapped surface of Mars and, "the plan is to deploy on site to mission operations this summer to be controlling Rovers on Mars in July", says Norris.
Verdict: This is the peak use case Microsoft will want to roll out, because it is so unashamedly nerdy. It's difficult to know how immersive the Mars environment is in HoloLens without trying it but my concern would be the limitations imposed by the small viewing window, as opposed to a fully immersive VR experience.
What is interesting here is NASA saying that it will use the tool to actually control the Rover, which would require some pretty comprehensive retooling but would provide one of the more practical use cases the HoloLens has so far in its limited lifetime.
Swedish car makers Volvo are using HoloLens in a couple of ways, allowing customers to view modifications on a 3D model of the car as well as for internal training purposes.
Verdict: Having a HoloLens at the dealership sounds like a perfect use case for the technology. You only need one unit and you can show customers all of their modifications on a scale model, which might drive purchases or at least will drive the perception that Volvo is an innovative car brand.
The video didn't go into detail about the training, design or maintenance use cases in much detail but there is certainly some scope for the technology in all of those areas.
Aviad Almagor, MR program manager at GPS technology specialists Trimble opens the video by saying: "Architects are dealing with shapes, and spaces and light and they dream in 3D and need to translate that into 2D documents. HoloLens presents a whole new paradigm."
The core to this use case is human's apparent inability to visualise in 3D. What Trimble does with HoloLens is allow architects and structural engineers to view holographic models of structures, be it layered on top of a physical model or actually on site to aid decision making.
Almagor says on the video that HoloLens is a "much better way to make sure the design is implemented correctly on site".
Verdict: This is a pretty solid use case and I see it being more popular in the setting of an architect office, stood around a 3D model, than I do on the site itself.
5. Case Western University
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio is trialling lectures using HoloLens so that students can "stand around a model like a tour group in a museum", according to Mark Griswold, a professor of radiology at the university.
The application allows students to view a 3D hologram of the human body and cycle through different layers of anatomical structures, from muscular to circulatory systems and bone structure.
Verdict: It definitely sounds good, but in practice (I have tried it) the 3D model is pretty underwhelming. The detail isn't quite there yet and feels more appropriate for a GCSE biology classroom than a medical training university. My guess is that students using HoloLens will need to get their hands on a cadaver at some point also, making the whole exercise an expensive extra step.
Design software maker Autodesk is a natural fit for the HoloLens. On the video it says: "The number one challenge for designers and engineers is just being on the same page which is key to making better decisions."
It goes on to show two designers drag a 3D model of a game console into a space between their desk to collaborate on the design. It has also developed an application called ModBot to visualise industrial scale robots to make better decisions pre-build and deployment.
Verdict: The part where two designers drag a 3D model of a game controller into a space between their desks is pretty cool. My question is, why can't they just collaborate on a real piece of kit? Wouldn't that be a better use of time and resources?
7. PGA Tour
Microsoft presented a sporting use case at its Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this year with the PGA Tour.
In partnership with digital studio TaqTile they created an app for fans and players to view a 3D rendering of golf courses. In the video the presenter shows a 16ft hologram of TPC Sawgrass rendered from 3D Bing maps. It could be navigated by the air pinch or by voice, "go to the 17th hole" and individual player shot arcs and locations could be layered on top.
Scott Gutterman, VP of digital operations at the PGA Tour said they are looking at using the HoloLens for golf course design and tournament set up, so visualising grandstand locations and traffic flows to traverse the course. Players and caddies could also use the technology to strategise how they will attack the course.
Verdict: As a golfer this looks really fun to play with but it is essentially an advanced sports analytics application which would require me to put a HoloLens on while at a major golf event, so it is pretty restrictive.
8. Legendary Entertainment
The makers of such masterpieces as the Warcraft movie, media company Legendary Entertainment has designed a slick HoloLens use case video which shows employees sat at desks interacting with World of Warcraft character holograms.
"Legendary, although primarily known as a film and television company we really see ourselves as world builders in the experience business," Barnaby Legg, VP of theatrical strategy says in the video.
The video also shows pre-visualisations of sets and characters and some cool social media ready 'content' for fans.
Verdict: The stuff about artists pre-visualising sets and characters is pretty cool, and potentially useful for people in the creative industries.
What this use case boils down to though is having attendees of red carpet events put a HoloLens on to 'meet' characters from the movie, which Legg calls a "magic trick" during the video.
The holographic headset computer has the Cherry Trail chip, which will also be in tablets and low-end PCs
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