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HoloLens hands-on: The Developer Edition

Simon Bisson | March 31, 2016
The shipping hardware is lighter, easier to adjust, and much more comfortable than last year’s prototypes

The first steps of the tutorial were similar to last year's: creating and placing an object on a stage. What was new was the process of sharing an object and creating a collaborative experience, in our case building an application that was shared between eight different users, each with their own HoloLens.

In order to set up sharing, you'll need a sharing service running on a separate device. This is used to host object coordinates, as well as downloading image files to devices. An anchor point is loaded from the first HoloLens to connect to the sharing service, and it's used as a baseline for all subsequent actions and communications. The approach makes sense, as the sharing surface is based on a HoloLens surface scan from its 3D cameras.

A shared object is used the same way as one in a solo experience. You can interact with it using the standard voice recognition and gesture commands. However, as a basic shared object you can only interact with it; not with other users. It's a model that might work well for exploring and sharing architectural models, but it's not really suitable for interactive tutorials or more complex immersive applications like NASA's Mars exploration tools.

Sharing experiences

Collaborative spaces are possibly the most interesting feature of HoloLens, as they take mixed reality and make it a shared experience. You can use them to interact with an object and with other users; whether they're physically present or at the other end of a network connection. This is a big step beyond the solo virtual worlds of most VR headsets, or the basic AR of information overlay devices like Google Glass.

Adding the Discovery service to a HoloLens app, means you can now start to interact with other users. In our demo, we were able to add code that allowed users to select an avatar that would be added to the HoloLens simulation space. This would also allow the sharing service to work with user position to, for example, control how an object was placed in that 3D space. In our demo, we had shared control over an object, which was placed at the center of our shared vision (and which could be moved and replaced by a simple voice command).

Interacting with avatars

In addition, HoloLens' toolkit provides tools for interacting with other users' avatars, allowing a shared experience that's outside of the also-visible physical world -- itself mapped into the HoloLens space using the device's 3D cameras and spatial mapping.

Developers receiving the first tranche of HoloLens hardware over the next few days are going to be pleasantly surprised. Microsoft is delivering hardware that's more mature than expected, with a growing and improving software development environment. It's not perfect by any means, and it's certainly not ready for consumers or business users.


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