What sets the HoloLens apart from other smart glasses

Every now and then, we receive requests for applications for smart glasses from medium-sized and large companies from all over the world. Many of them do not distinguish between which device is to be used or which functionality is actually needed. However, there are big differences between Smartglasses.

The Microsoft HoloLens has recently been the subject of much discussion. But why is this the case, and what makes Microsoft different from other well-known manufacturers such as Google, Vuzix or ODG?

Too long; didn’t read? If you are more audio-visual, you can watch our webinar here.

Are Smartglasses going through the same development as Smartphones?

Smartglasses have developed well, but the market is still very fragmented. Looking at the development of smartphones these days, nothing has changed since Apple’s keynote to the first iPhone: a black, rectangular device that has become less and less bulky in recent years.

However, the standardised form factor is above all about user acceptance. By 2017, there will be hardly any nasty surprises for smartphones and tablets. The operating concepts have become established and apps are plentiful.

Innovation is just what you get when a semi-modular smartphone is released or a dual camera is introduced. All in all, however, the market is saturated.

What about Smartglasses? The devices referred as smart glasses have been around for a long time in research. But the real breakthrough was first celebrated with the Google Glass in 2012. It was the first case that the vision of a portable computer with display has arrived in the middle of society – debates and discussions about privacy, coolness and functionality included.

We are writing the year 2017: Google Glass has arrived at the Museum of Failure, but will be back as an enterprise version soon. The HoloLens is here. Meta has a competitor product, and the hyped Magic Leap product is still missing.

What is the HoloLens?

HoloLens is the first smart spectacles from Microsoft. It relies on a completely different form of interaction than other smart glasses – because it works almost entirely without buttons. Only the volume and brightness can be adjusted – and a power button is found on the device – that’s it. (image)

Instead, Microsoft has developed an operating concept with the user’s hands. A logical step in retrospect! With the development of the Microsoft Kinect, many years of experience have been gathered in the field of tracking hands or faces by cameras and sensors. But what’s the point?

If you look at the display and the presentation of content, it quickly becomes clear why this type of interaction was used. Applications are not displayed on a flat, floating screen, but can be placed in the real room. This means that the “virtual workstation” is not limited to a floating, rectangular display – but rather to the real environment of the user – a much larger workspace.

The HoloLens scans the environment to detect for example a table or a wall and then place 3D objects correctly over it. In addition, information can be more clearly associated with a real object such as a machine. Instead of the monitor next to it or a display in previous smart glasses, information such as temperature or payload can be displayed in real time in conjunction with an integrated application directly at the point of interest, in other words on the machine or a part of it.

This is the first time that the user has a significantly stronger relationship to his environment than with Google Glass, for example. The last one was and is to be described as a smartphone that floats at a fixed point in front of the user’s eye – the HoloLens, on the other hand, places digital information in a room.

Beispiel der Handhabung von 3D Objekten im echten Raum

Augmented Reality is a major factor

Thus, Microsoft uses “native” augmented reality technology to display and use information, applications and elements. Microsoft uses the word Mixed Reality as a differentiation from the previous methods of Augmented Reality.

What makes the difference? Well, even at iTiZZiMO we brought augmented reality content to smartglasses from Vuzix, Google and ODG many years ago. However, by a decisive detour: With the integrated camera, we took a picture of the environment and then used an integrated software algorithm to lay 3D elements over the displayed camera image, which was then played back on the display. Not only the so-called “immersion” failed to materialize. Also the display of most devices is too small to display 3D environments correctly and understandably.

To improve this experience, Microsoft is going the fully integrated way with the HoloLens. From sensor technology and tracking algorithms to the use with a native Windows application, a completely orchestrated approach is the result.

Comparison: Augmented reality on conventional smart glasses and the HoloLens

On conventional smart glasses, the field of view is shown again on the display and an AR layer is placed above it – this is confusing.

With the HoloLens, 3D content appears directly in the view – a much more immersive experience.

What does this approach mean for developers?

This close cooperation of all the decisive factors in hardware and software provides an extremely good user experience. However, there are also several new challenges. For example, 3D applications for the HoloLens still have to be built with the Unity Engine – common web frameworks such as Angular are not possible. So it is not only manual work that is required, but also special know-how.

Concepts also need to be rethought

As mentioned above, the HoloLens is different from other smart glasses. Therefore, it would be wrong to think only about hands-free working or thinking about faded-in content in the field of vision.

Because the HoloLens has so many different possibilities, for example in the location of the user, the recognition of the environment and the way of interaction, that problems and requirements can result in completely new concepts, prototypes and future-oriented applications.

In our webinar on September 21, 2017 we will dicuss the topic more detailed. We will talk about approaches how you can conceptualize and implement a HoloLens application, what iTiZZiMO has done so far and where the journey will go.

3D models on the one hand, mixed reality on the other: even the most beautiful visualization is useless without the right data. For live data from a machine or sensor, it requires a robust data connection. With our platform Simplifier it is nowadays possible to integrate such data into HoloLens applications.

For example, we support the OPC UA standard, but also other connectors in general that are equipped with a REST-API. For further information please contact us.

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