UK mixed reality content studio FractureReality is going all-in on Microsoft's HoloLens platform, developing proof of concepts for enterprise companies as it promises to increase employee engagement and supercharge collaboration using the technology.
FractureReality was born out of a 3D content creation and design company that focused on video games. It gained accreditation through Microsoft's agency readiness partner programme a year ago and has committed to the form since. The company lists Transport for London, EDF Energy and McDonalds as clients on its website.
Other UK creative agencies have also developed proof of concepts (PoCs) for HoloLens, like Rewind's Flight Deck app for the Red Bull air race and Black Marble's tuServe applications for policing. In total there are 17 accredited agency partners developing HoloLens applications in Europe (excluding Microsoft itself).
The HoloLens is a mixed reality headset developed by the Office software giant. Developer kits were launched in 2016 in some select countries to allow businesses or developers with deep pockets - it retails at £2,719 - to order the headsets and start creating applications using the Microsoft SDK, as it looked for companies like FractureReality to make the technology more accessible to large enterprise customers.
The problem, and this is with HoloLens in general, is the virtual field of vision is small - roughly like looking at a 24 inch screen from a metre away. This makes it difficult to immerse yourself in the surroundings so the use cases are very object specific, such as zooming in on a jet engine or exploring parts of a virtual human body.
Proof of concept
FractureReality showed Computerworld UK two PoCs during a demo last week.
Chief executive Mark Knowles-Lee told Computerworld UK that developing a prototype can be as quick as 12 weeks, but sometimes it can take longer depending on the application and the amount of data being consumed.
The first was built using open data from Transport for London (TfL) to show the locations of the proposed skyscrapers due to be added to the City skyline. This includes cards with details of the developers of each skyscraper and when they are due to be completed, all overlaid with transport links which could be programmed to display live usage data.
This sort of data visualisation could be built at other cities using live data to help surveyors, architects or organisations like TfL to plan for future development. It could also be extended to show energy consumption for smart cities.
The other PoC was for the Kulturtanken cultural organisation in Norway. This is a more consumer-focused use case, allowing students to view a 3D model of a church overlaid on some ruins before they were sent off to build a replica in Minecraft, as a team.
The use case Knowles-Lee gets really excited by though is "same room collaboration". This is where a group of colleagues or students can all view the same data, or a 3D model, and also a window showing what the leader of the meeting is seeing, to collaborate live on a problem. Knowles-Lee calls this "video conferencing on steroids".
Knowles-Lee says he has been able to run a PoC of this kind of use case for 15 concurrent users on a network connection at an unnamed organisation in the USA.
While I remain sceptical of the real enterprise value of rolling out a fleet of £2,719 headsets, developers like FractureReality are really starting to mine some value from the technology in the form of viable, niche use cases.
Whether the HoloLens actually finds mass adoption will come down to these use cases more than the hardware itself. Where FractureReality is gambling on the headsets disrupting video conferencing, others are focusing on teaching and retail. It's not a winner-takes-all market, but one of these uses will have to become compelling enough to separate an enterprise from some actual cash if the technology is to hit the mainstream.
However, while these remain in the proof of concept stage, and with the developers and Microsoft still having to perform an educational role rather than providing an actual return on investment proposition, the HoloLens will remain firmly shelved in my mind.