Author(s): Peter Bryer
Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled Windows Holographic — a suite of augmented reality (AR) software that will work on Windows 10 devices including Microsoft's HoloLens AR headset. The software layers digital objects on top of the real world, and it can be wonderfully deceptive. In a post-PC era, the future computer display could merge with the world around us.
Microsoft's usage scenarios for HoloLens included enterprise and gaming applications, with product design, Minecraft sessions and Skype calls all part of the vision. It should be noted that augmented reality isn't particularly new: some military AR implementations for heads-up displays go back more than half a century. Low-cost mobile computing and sensors along with new software development tools are now putting AR into the hands of millions. The decision to make AR a native feature in future versions of Windows means Microsoft is shifting augmented reality to become a standard for future user interfaces.
One segment of Microsoft's HoloLens demonstration video showed the device being used to receive remote instructions to make plumbing repairs. It was an exciting reminder of research carried out more than half a decade ago to develop head-worn AR devices to support detailed mechanical work and learning. Ideas do move out of the laboratory in due time.
In 2009, Columbia University's Computer Graphics and User Interface Lab released a video discussing the use of AR to assist military personnel in repair and maintenance work of vehicles. Several years before this, BMW uploaded their vision of an AR wearable providing a mechanic with step-by-step instructions to repair an engine. These are enticing uses and not unrelated to Microsoft's current implementation. The instruction manual is getting a 21st-century upgrade.
Some schools are using AR in the classroom and some parents are using it at home for lessons. Augmented reality has the potential to add a layer of excitement to learning. Pop-up books are going digital, and some educators see AR hardware and software as an important development in pedagogy. Devices like HoloLens could become required kit along with pencils and notebooks.
Microsoft has reminded us about the potential of augmented reality's pragmatic side. There may have been more than a touch of optimism to Microsoft's demo, but the visions are real and the implementations are going ahead. AR has the potential to become a teacher's assistant and a daily helper in supporting the creation of new applications, services and devices. This will be a learning experience.