Innovations in AR: Heavy Industry

Augmented reality (AR) is a key pillar of Industry 4.0 (or the fourth industrial revolution), side-by-side with other potentially transformative technologies like machine learning and big data. Indeed, consultancy firm PwC has estimated that industrial manufacturing and design is one of the biggest areas for augmented and virtual reality (VR), with their use in heavy industry having the potential to deliver a $360bn GDP boost by 2030.

In this latest edition of our series on how augmented reality is faring across a range of industries, we’ll be taking a closer look at why AR is proving so useful in heavy industry, in particular the fields of construction, manufacturing and energy.

Construction

AR is proving to be a key tool for the construction industry, whether in the design stage or actually in the construction process itself, leading a 2020 study of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry to say that AR and VR would see “strong growth” in the next 5 to 10 years.

On the design side, numerous architectural tools exist to help with space visualisation using augmented reality. One such example is The Wild, which allows designers to view 3D models in both virtual and augmented reality. Such tools can layer virtual details onto a building plan so that plans can be more readily understood by stakeholders. 

That requires highly detailed and accurate 3D models, which is where the technology overlaps with digital twin technology. Using those digital twins, companies like Akular can enable clients to see what a building would look like on-site in the real world before it is built via a mobile application.

When it comes to actual construction, augmented reality again finds a number of uses, not least training workers on safety. That might involve AR headsets that interact with tags on potentially dangerous areas to bring up safety information, but even before workers are on-site, AR can help with training them on how to use heavy machinery – as with the construction equipment training simulators offered by CM Labs or the Arvizio AR Instructor.

Arvizio AR Instructor

“Industries are experiencing a shortage of skilled front-line employees and view augmented reality as a means to accelerate training and efficiently transfer the expertise of experienced workers,” said Jonathan Reeves, CEO of Arvizio. “Arvizio enables organizations to rapidly upskill employees without the need for on-site coaching and mentoring. By delivering no-code authored augmented reality instruction and remote expert connectivity, AR Instructor can substantially increase productivity and reduce errors of workers performing complex operational activities.”

Meanwhile, progress capture and tracking functionality directly compares real-world sites with virtual models to ensure they aren’t deviating – all in real-time. A host of companies provide variations on that technology such as VisualLive, which enables users to witness 3D models in real life via headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens or mobile devices.

Manufacturing

Much of the technology we’ve covered for construction can equally apply to the manufacturing industry, whether that’s learning how to use dangerous equipment or visualising the layout of equipment and machinery in a factory. None of this is to say there aren’t plenty of bespoke uses for augmented reality in the manufacturing space, however.

One early pioneer was Volkswagen, which was using augmented reality to assist service workers way back in 2013. The MARTA app showed step-by-step instructions on how to repair and replace certain components, overlaying its advice on the car via an iPad app. Along similar lines is Boeing’s more recent use of augmented reality to give technicians real-time, hands-free, interactive 3D wiring diagrams. 

Interestingly, that technology has bled over into the consumer space with AR manuals that assist car-owners with basic maintenance operations by showing precisely where components are located within a car.

In the design space, AR has been deployed by the largest manufacturers to rapidly iterate and do away with expensive and time-consuming physical prototypes. In the case of Ford and its partnership with HoloLens, changes can be made to a design and reflected in real-time to collaboratively sculpt a new vehicle.

AR has been trusted at the very highest levels of manufacturing, too. Lockheed Martin utilised augmented reality in the creation of NASA’s Orion Spacecraft, overlaying information to help with mission-critical procedures such as precisely aligning fasteners.

Nasa Orion HoloLens

Energy

In the energy sector, AR has the potential to remedy significant problems faced by the industry, chief of which is a brain drain caused by an ageing workforce. Indeed, the US Department of Labor estimated in 2019 that 50% of the current energy utility workforce will retire within the next ten years. The institutional knowledge being lost could be replenished more quickly with the help of AR technology.

Shell is duly using the remote collaboration possibilities of AR to educate workers in the field. Expert consultants are able to see through a worker’s eyes via an AR headset, and even draw on the screen of the augmented reality display they are using. That increases safety as workers interact with potentially dangerous heavy oil and gas equipment, as well as allowing experienced but ageing employees the ability to work remotely.

Shell AR
Image credit: Shell

The energy sector is no slouch when it comes to more specific AR solutions either, such as Upskills’s Skylight platform which allows companies to more easily develop bespoke augmented reality apps for use with AR devices, ranging from Google Glass to Microsoft HoloLens 2 and mobile devices. Then there are solutions such as Adroit, which can provide guidance on repairing high-stakes equipment such as oil rigs by scanning and identifying faulty components and machinery.

Final Thoughts

In heavy industry, where the costs of prototyping are enormous and the potential risks from machinery are significant, leaning on the virtual possibilities of augmented reality is common sense – hence the interest in the technology from across the sector.

To find out more about how AR is progressing in other fields, read the previous entry in the series, where we explored the healthcare industry in particular.

Report: Microsoft Braces for Negative Field Tests of Military HoloLens

Microsoft is supposedly gearing up to field test its HoloLens-based military AR headset, however a new report contends the company is bracing for impact, as it’s expecting negative feedback from soldiers.

Last year, Microsoft announced it had won a United States Army defense contract worth up to $22 billion which would see the development of a so-called Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), a tactical AR headset for soldiers based on HoloLens 2 technology.

A Business Insider report, citing a leaked internal email, maintains that Microsoft has low expectations for its latest version of IVAS, which is set to begin real-world operational tests with the US Army in May.

Prototype testing (2019), Image courtesy CNBC

Microsoft’s IVAS contract has allegedly seen delays and quality problems. A separate Business Insider report from last month alleges its enterprise-focused HoloLens 3 may also be at risk due to internal issues within Microsoft’s mixed reality division surrounding whether HoloLens should serve consumers or continue courting enterprise companies.

A purported Microsoft Teams message from Mixed Reality division head and HoloLens co-inventor Alex Kipman paints a pretty depressing story:

“So depressed, so demoralized, so broken. I’m sure by now you’ve read or heard about one or two of the Business Insider articles that were published on us. On our private roadmap. On our customers’ confidential data … as a consequence of these articles and these individuals shameful actions, someone from finance already came to me to ask if we should lock down and not share so openly our numbers. Someone from marketing already came to me and asked if we should lock down and not share so openly our roadmap. Someone for from our National Intelligence and Security Team already came to me to ask if we should lock down our IVAS work.”

Kipman rebuffed the previously report of unrest, saying “don’t believe what you read on the internet.”

It’s said that soldiers may take issue with the device’s low light and thermal imaging performance, and that user impressions will “continue to be negative as reliability improvements have been minimal from previous events.”

That $22 billion is an upper target and not the full amount granted to Microsoft at present. And it seems confidence in the project isn’t very high at the moment, as US Congress has allegedly frozen $394 million from the Army’s IVAS budget, which Business Insider notes leaves only $405 million—around $200 million shy of what Microsoft supposedly needs to recover development costs.

Additionally, it’s also said some close to the project fear the Army will simply walk away from the contract.

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Report Casts Doubt on HoloLens 3, Microsoft Says AR Headset is “doing great”

Microsoft’s enterprise-focused HoloLens 3 may be dead in the water, as a recent report maintains that internal divisions have hobbled the company’s efforts to release its next AR headset as planned. In the days following the report’s release, HoloLens co-creator Alex Kipman responded, saying “don’t believe what you read on the internet.”

Business Insider report from earlier this month maintains that plans to release HoloLens 3 are shifting behind the scenes. This comes alongside an alleged partnership with Samsung that would see the development of a wholly new consumer AR device that is rumored to tether to a Samsung smartphone.

This has allegedly caused divisions within the company surrounding whether HoloLens should serve consumers or continue courting enterprise companies. Rubén Caballero, Microsoft’s mixed reality and AI device engineering VP under Kipman, is reportedly pushing to focus on consumers, whereas the company has historically geared HoloLens for enterprise and the military.

Alex Kipman wearing HoloLens 2, Image courtesy Microsoft

Making an AR headset accessible enough for consumers is a vastly different challenge to producing higher cost enterprise headsets—just ask Magic Leap. If true, it would represent a significant change of course for the HoloLens product line.

There’s some ostensible background radiation related to employee attrition here too. The team has demonstrably thinned out over the last few months, with HoloLens veterans such as principal optical architect Bernard Kress leaving the company recently for Google Labs. A number of other high-profile members, including mixed reality technical fellow Don Box, engineer of computer vision Dave Reed, and former HoloLens engineering director Josh Miller have all left for Meta, along with a reported 70 others over the past year.

The report maintains progress on fulfilling its $22 billion US defense contract, which aims to put HoloLens in battlefield roles over the next 10 years, has also been stymied by internal production issues.

Microsoft Responds

Microsoft spokesperson Frank Shaw reaffirmed HoloLens’ importance to the company, telling Business Insider that HoloLens is “a critical part of our plans for emerging categories like mixed reality and the metaverse. We remain committed to HoloLens and future HoloLens development.”

HoloLens co-creator Alex Kipman also voiced his concern via Twitter, but declined to comment on the specifics.

In a follow-up tweet, Kipman says he hopes HoloLens 3 will be as “mind blowing” of an upgrade as the 2019-era HoloLens 2 was over the 2016 version, both of which were class-leading standalone AR headsets.

‘IVAS’ configured HoloLens 2 for US Defense, Image courtesy Microsoft

Kipman’s openness about the existence of the next HoloLens signals at least that Microsoft isn’t throwing in the towel, although the report may suggest Microsoft is moving forward with a more software-forward approach with AR instead of solely hocking its own hardware—pretty much par for the course for the company.

If those claims can be believed, it’s also possible HoloLens 3’s focus has changed so drastically that the device is no longer purely enterprise-focused, but instead split in two separate projects: one to service the US military contract and another to appeal to consumers.

In any case, Samsung’s reported partnership with Microsoft sounds like very familiar territory for the South Korean tech powerhouse. Samsung partnered with Oculus (now Meta) back in 2014 to build Gear VR, a snap-in VR smartphone holder that was a generational leap in terms of low-latency mobile VR.

And as Microsoft no doubt looks to compete with Meta and Apple, both of which are making strides to release AR headsets for consumers in the near future, we’re sure to see its strategy out in the open sooner rather than later.

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Report: Lucrative Hiring Push Sees Microsoft, Apple Employees Defect To Meta

Reports from Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal indicate Microsoft and Apple employees are leaving to join Meta Platforms, as part of the latter company’s increased push into AR. To counter, Apple are offering some employees lucrative and unusual stock options as bonuses if they stay.

Meta, formerly Facebook, has consistently shown interest in expanding its VR/AR team for the last several years, including studio acquisitions and head-hunting competitors’ employees. However, the company’s recent emphasis on the metaverse and its latest product and prototype announcements seem to be resulting in an increased hiring push.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft’s AR team (reportedly around 1500 people) has lost around 100 employees in the last year.

HoloLens 2 Review (2)

Of those staff, 70 were from the HoloLens team (headset pictured above), 40 of which went on to join Meta Platforms. This includes Charlie Han, former head of customer feedback for HoloLens, and Josh Miller, formerly part of the HoloLens display team and now display director at Meta.

Given their experience shipping an AR headset, former HoloLens staff would be enticing hires for Meta as part of the increased push towards consumer AR devices. In September, Meta shared a look at its prototype AR glasses project, subtitled Nazare, pictured below.

Project Nazare AR Meta

Microsoft also reportedly failed to hire ample new staff to manage the $20+ billion contract it signed with the US Army in April 2021. This army contract would see Microsoft supply ruggedized AR headsets, based on the HoloLens program, to frontline soldiers.

However, The Wall Street Journal reports that the program faced technical difficulties, particularly involving bringing high-quality night vision to the HoloLens. These strains reportedly enticed some members of the team to consider competitor offers. Despite this, Microsoft told the Wall Street Journal that it has a “strong team and is making progress on the project.” In October, the US Army announced it would move further testing of the project into 2022.

However, Microsoft is not the only one facing stiff competition in the VR/AR space. According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple is facing similar defections to Meta from within its AR/VR team.

More specifically, Bloomberg reports around 100 employees left Apple to join Meta in the last few months. That being said, Apple also reportedly managed to entice some key Meta employees across in the same period.

The Information Apple VR

Apple is working toward release of a VR/AR mixed reality headset in the near future, potentially as early as this year, with high resolution color cameras for mixed reality. The embedded image above is a concept drawn by The Information, reportedly depicting an impression of the headset.

To counter Meta’s recent interest in its employees, Apple is reportedly offering some of its engineers lucrative and unusual stock bonuses to entice them to stay. These options, which would be vested over four years, are being offered to only some engineers in “silicon design, hardware, and select software and operations groups.” The bonus amounts range from $50,000 to $180,000, with “as much as $120,000 in shares.”

You can read the full reports at The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

Microsoft is ‘Absolutely’ Working Towards a Consumer Hololens

Microsoft Hololens 2

When it comes to the augmented reality (AR) market there’s currently a very definitive split between consumer and enterprise. Mostly, consumers main access to AR is through their mobile devices with an ever-growing library of games and apps available. On the enterprise side, you’ve got the likes of Microsoft HoloLens 2, providing high-end holographic interfaces designed for workplace collaboration, training and other use cases. But as Microsoft’s Alex Kipman recently confirmed, the plan is to make a consumer HoloLens.

Microsoft HoloLens 2

Kipman recently spoke with Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern about its AR (or mixed reality (MR) if you prefer) plans and how he envisions the technology’s future. Whilst this includes shared experiences enabled by Microsoft Mesh, getting the tech into more hands (and onto faces) is an important factor and one which Microsoft is working towards by developing a consumer version of HoloLens.

“We are ‘playing’ to lead mixed reality in the world,” Kipman responded. “But you don’t get to lead a new medium of computing if you’re not going to be in consumer. So, we are absolutely working on a consumer journey for HoloLens, I’m happy to confirm that and say that it’s a very important part of our strategy.”

Just don’t expect a budget-friendly HoloLens in your local tech store anytime soon because Microsoft isn’t going to rush it. “I don’t think the technology today, goggles at $3,500, is a consumer product,” Kipman continues. “It’s an amazing product and a transformative product for the industries we’re in, but it’s not a consumer product. As soon as we can get a proper level of immersion, and immersion is key, you can’t go give some lightweight notifications in Google, put it in a device on someone’s face and assume that’s a consumer product. You need the HoloLens 2 plus, plus-level of immersion in socially acceptable glasses.”

Pokemon Go HoloLens 2

That would mean reducing the size of HoloLens dramatically from its current form factor. Kipman estimates the HoloLens 2’s current 500g+ weight would have to come in under 90g to be a viable consumer product. Considering the amount of hardware built into the device is a sizeable task.

In the short term, that gap is going to be bridged by smart viewers. Qualcomm showcased its XR1 AR Smart Viewer Reference Design earlier in the year and devices like the Nreal Light are now coming to market. They get around some of the technological hurdles by plugging into smartphones which provide all the processing power. Qualcomm envisions this will eventually become wireless to remove the adoption friction a cable creates.

When Microsoft does make a consumer HoloLens expect Pokemon GO – or a version of it – to be on it. During Microsoft’s Ignite event, Niantic CEO and Founder John Hanke demoed a proof-of-concept providing a tantalising look at what’s to come. As further details regarding Microsoft’s consumer AR plans are revealed, VRFocus will let you know.

HoloLens 2 Review: Ahead Of Its Time, For Better And Worse

Is HoloLens 2 proof that AR is the future? Find out in our HoloLens 2 review!

For both better and worse, Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 is ahead of its time. The $3,500 headset is a trailblazer, offering a tantalizing glimpse of a future we otherwise only read about in patent filings. But the technology behind HoloLens is here before it’s truly ready or, at least, ready for consumer adoption. That’s why the thing is so insanely expensive and why Microsoft pivoted it toward the enterprise market rather than going after gamers and tech enthusiasts. In doing so, the company avoided a high-profile failure akin to the Magic Leap One.

It’s through that lens you have to view this device. HoloLens 2 is an incredible piece of hardware that simultaneously suggests the future of AR is both very bright and very far away with huge caveats that are easier to accept as necessary trade-offs in this early stage.

Transparent Design

HoloLens 2 Review (2)

Microsoft has branded the HoloLens 2 a ‘Mixed Reality’ headset, but that label is a little confusing. This is really just augmented reality – the headset features a pair of transparent lenses that the onboard compute — stored at the back of the device — projects virtual images into. With a limited field of view and the inability to show fully opaque objects, the device doesn’t have any VR features. That said, a lot of the tech behind the platform is comparable to — and hugely improves upon — what makes up the Quest 2 and what you can see in current smartphone AR.

Similar to Apple’s ARkit or Google’s ARCore, for example, the device is able to understand your surroundings and place these objects within the context of your environment. You can attach virtual tables to the real world floor, or clear surfaces to accommodate scale models. HoloLens 2 features a 1-MP Time-of-Flight depth sensor that makes this anchoring much more reliable and also enables hand-tracking, something Quest users will be familiar with. It’s also got features we long to see in cheaper headsets, like eye-tracking via two infrared cameras. In other words, this is a technological smorgasbord with a bit of everything included.

Making AR A Cosy Fit

Anyone that wore the original HoloLens for more than a minute knew just how uncomfortable the headset could get. It was heavy, bulky and pinched my nose, making it hard to have it on for a long time. Improving comfort was of huge importance to Microsoft for its follow-up and, I have to say, they more than pulled it off.

The device weighs in at 566 grams, which is almost exactly the same weight as the Oculus Quest 1 and about 70 or so grams heavier than Quest 2. However, by storing much of its compute at the back of the device alongside the dial for the headstrap, HoloLens 2 feels far more comfortable than almost any VR headset I’ve used. A brow pad perfectly cushions the device on my forehead, leaving enough space that it doesn’t even really rest on my nose at all. That story will be different for everyone, of course, but of the people I know that have tried the device, basically no one has complained about comfort.

You’re even able to instantly flip the visor upward, removing the lenses from sight when necessary, and the back dial paired with the top strap means finding the right fit for you takes just a few seconds. This is, of course, still an incredibly bulky and awkward-looking piece of kit that you wouldn’t dream of wearing outside, but when I first tired HoloLens 2 in 2019 I said it was an AR headset so comfortable that I could actually see myself using it every day (at least indoors). Having now had that opportunity, that holds true.

Magic Right In Front Of Your Eyes

HoloLens 2’s lenses are transparent, but not fully, so the view is a little darker than the real world. The virtual objects displayed aren’t fully opaque – Microsoft calls them holograms. That said, they’re anchored solidly in place and feel believable. There’s no denying the magic of experiencing head-worn AR for the first time. Even the kit’s introductory Tips app proves to be a moreish treat, showing a virtual hummingbird that flutters about as if it really is there.

Unlike VR, which is — in its current form — mostly preoccupied with games and entertainment, HoloLens 2 shows you why AR has such remarkable potential for productivity and education. With the headset’s new collaborative platform, Microsoft Mesh, I’m able to host meetings with other people that have genuine, tangible advantages over web calls, social VR platforms and physical meetings. We can pass around 3D assets and renders, for example, using incredibly intuitive hand-tracking with pinch and grab gestures. But, if I need to access my phone, PC, or grab something from another room then HoloLens 2 doesn’t require me to remove the headset like VR would. Removing barriers like this might seem superficial, but in practice it’s anything but, and demonstrates how AR can be a truly useful tool.

Reaching out and grabbing these images often works well, too. Thanks to its depth-sensor, HoloLens 2’s hand-tracking is incredibly solid – far more so than what’s currently on offer with the Quest 2. Simply pinching a 3D asset will let you grab it and move it with your hand, and you can use the ‘Air Tap’ with your thumb and index finger, paired with pointers, to manipulate objects and windows from afar. I had very little issue with these sorts of gestures, but there are some caveats we’ll get to in a bit. You can also basically voice operate the device by bringing up a pointer to look at options and then speaking to select them.

Meanwhile, using Microsoft Edge, Photos and Firefox Reality, I can place browser and playback apps around physical space, not as tabs but as whole-other screens that anchor to a space and are ready to just reach out and touch. No smartphone-style app juggling – everything you need can be laid out right in front of you. Concepts like these are undoubtedly going to play a big part in AR’s future but, with HoloLens 2, you can already get a taste of it.

Illusions Revealed

HoloLens 2 Review (2)

But, marvellous as this all is, there’s some big drawbacks. Field of view (FOV) is the big one. Again, HoloLens 2 improves on the FOV of the original, but the horizontal FOV of 43° and a vertical of 29° only captures a very small slice of the world around you. Unless you’re standing at a distance, the images you’re viewing inside of HoloLens 2 will likely be cut off by restrictive borders that are a real pain to try and work with. It is, without a doubt, the headset’s biggest flaw and the primary reason that, as impressive as it is, HoloLens 2 doesn’t feel ready for mass adoption.

Interacting with this new world can also be a bit of a mixed bag.  Yes, hand-tracking is mostly dependable but, paired with the limited FOV it can make interacting with apps a hassle. It isn’t 1:1, which makes interactions feel sluggish compared to the responsiveness of a PC or VR controller,  and it also struggles with occlusion and the tracking’s field of view.

Take the browser, for example. If I want to interact with a webpage, I want to bring the screen close to me so I’m not reaching out too far every time I want to select something. But doing that cuts off half the page from view, meaning I need to anchor my neck to scroll up and down the field of view. It makes web-browsing much more strenuous and sluggish than it is with a keyboard and mouse. That may speak more to the need to redesign the web for AR than AR’s need to accommodate current formats, but it’s still a problem in the here and now.

Moreover, typing on the virtual keyboard can only be done with your index fingers, which slows web-browsing considerably (though Bluetooth keyboard and mouse support is included), and it also means you’ll be tracking your hands as you use other devices which, as I write this review on my laptop, I’m learning can be troublesome (though, again, you can just flick the visor away in an instant).

Battery life, meanwhile, varies. You could keep the device on your head and only use it intermittently for about three hours of life, but constant use in something like Mesh will bring that crashing down to around the two hour mark if not less. Elsewhere, you’ll notice some screen hitches from time to time, be it momentary distortion inside the lenses or jitters in image placement. Sometimes I’d select apps and the device would unexpectedly restart and, on the unit I was using I also noticed some lag when trying to scroll through the Microsoft Store or use browser apps.

Touching Windows 10

HoloLens 2 essentially runs on Windows 10. If you’ve used one of the Windows VR headsets like the HP Reverb G2 (which is also labelled ‘Mixed Reality’), you’ll be familiar with the layout – a home window gets you to your different apps and the Microsoft Store to download new ones. Touching your wrist below your palm brings up the menu where you can access your library of content.

This is where it’s perhaps most important to remember the market HoloLens 2 is designed for and why it exists. At the end of the day, most of the HoloLens customers out there are using it for a specific purpose, not as an all-in-one entertainment and work device. There isn’t much to actually ‘do’ inside HoloLens 2, but it isn’t really fair to judge it on that criteria, because that isn’t what it’s here for. Almost everything on the device is either a proof of concept tech demo or an enterprise application that requires approval to properly access.

HoloLens 2 Review (2)

You will find some small demos for games and other experiential pieces. I’ve been quite taken with Ford’s GT App, which takes you on a history of the classic car. A detailed 3D model sits on a surface to be studied and altered like a toy from the future, and there’s minigames involved too. There are several other educational apps in this vein and, if you are interested in gaming, there’s a short little puzzler that requires you to guide a robot around a level, interacting with different elements, though nothing on the scale of the Minecraft cross-play support we saw at E3 years ago.

That said, HoloLens 2 is as much about software evolution as it is hardware, and that’s where Microsoft Mesh comes in. Mesh is a framework for building shared AR experiences that can also be cross-platform, working with VR headsets and PCs/smartphones too. Right now Microsoft’s own Mesh preview app is the only place to experience it but it really is an impressive thing and feels like you’re inviting people into your own home to socialize and collaborate with. Once developers really start utilizing the platform for apps designed for the mass market, HoloLens itself will become a much more compelling platform.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 is a proof of concept device that sows the seeds for a revolution, if not launching one off of its own back. Even as an enterprise-only device free from the demands of consumer perfection, the headset’s limited field of view and imperfect interaction give it a distinctly experimental feel. Many of the things you’ve dreamed of doing with AR, from remote work meetups via Mesh to virtual, TV-less video playback are possible inside this headset, but implementation is often primitive, buggy and restricted, not because Microsoft has done a bad job realizing its vision so much as it is wrestling with what’s possible with current breakthroughs.

But consider what HoloLens 2 is really designed to do – it’s not an all-day wearable that seamlessly bounces back and forth between productivity and play. It’s often sold directly to businesses for specific purposes, most likely used in bursts of 10 – 20 minutes. Specific as that may be, there isn’t anything else that can match HoloLens 2’s feature-set. The technology to make AR a truly viable new medium can be glimpsed in HoloLens 2, but it’s going to be a long time yet before it’s fully realized. When it finally arrives, though, Microsoft will no doubt be very glad it had this head start.


Enquiries about buying HoloLens 2 can be made via an official site. Did you enjoy our HoloLens 2 review? Let us know in the comments below!

Microsoft Signs $22B Contract with US Army to Bring HoloLens 2 Tech to the Battlefield

Following a prototyping phase started in 2019, Microsoft and the United States Army have announced they are moving to a production phase of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), based on HoloLens 2 technology, through a contract worth up to $22 billion.

In 2019, Microsoft announced it was working with the US Army to prototype and test the IVAS system, an AR headset designed for both training and live battlefield use, based on Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 technology.

Image courtesy Microsoft

What started as a $480 million deal has now ballooned into a contract worth up to $21.88 billion, according to Microsoft, with an initial five year timeline and an option for an additional five years.

The US Army announced the contract last week as a “fixed price production agreement to manufacture the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS)” aimed at moving the project into a “production and rapid fielding” phase.

According to the US Army, the IVAS system is designed to streamline existing vision-enhancing and immersive training capabilities into a single platform.

“The suite of capabilities leverages existing high-resolution night, thermal, and Soldier-borne sensors integrated into a unified Heads Up Display to provide the improved situational awareness, target engagement, and informed decision-making necessary to achieve overmatch against current and future adversaries,” the US Army writes. “The system also leverages augmented reality and machine learning to enable a life-like mixed reality training environment so the Close Combat Force can rehearse before engaging any adversaries.”

Both Microsoft and the US Army paint the IVAS project as a “non-traditional” collaboration between the Army and a technology company, rather than a defense contractor. The organizations claim the direct collaboration has significantly increased the speed of development for the project.

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HoloLens 2 Sales Expanding to 15 More Countries, ‘Development Edition’ Launches in the US

Microsoft initially began selling HoloLens 2 to enterprise customers back in late 2019, but a broader rollout has taken quite some time. Earlier this year the company began selling the headset directly to individuals, and now its expanding the scope of sales to 15 more countries. Microsoft also announced today that the promised ‘Development Edition’ of the headset, which includes $1,250 in free developer resources, is now available in the US and coming to more countries by year’s end.

HoloLens 2 is Microsoft’s enterprise-focused AR headset which the company initially launched late last year with limited availability to select partners. Over the course of 2020 the headset has become much easier to get your hands on; in June the company finally opened up direct orders, allowing anyone to buy their very own HoloLens 2, even without the express backing of a large enterprise.

Now Microsoft is expanding the regions where it will sell HoloLens 2 to 15 new countries:  Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Poland, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The company says South Korea will be added to the list “later this fall.”

Image courtesy Microsoft

In addition to broadening sales, Microsoft today announced that the ‘HoloLens 2 Development Edition‘ package is now available in the United States. While you could previously buy the ‘Device Only’ package for $3,500, the ‘Development Edition’ is the same price but includes $1,250 of free developer tools:

HoloLens 2 Development Edition Value (MSRP; in $USD)
HoloLens 2 device $3,500
Azure credits $500
3-month Unity Pro license $450
3-month Pixyz Plugin license $300
          Total Development Edition Value $4,750
Total cost of Development Edition $3,500

The ‘Development Edition’ is, as the name implies, made for developers who want create AR applications that run on the headset. And while you’re getting some extra value in developer tools for the same price, Microsoft’s fine print indicates that HoloLens 2 Development Edition headsets are “not permitted to be deployed with a commercially distributed solution;” meaning they can’t loaned or sold to another company as part of a business-to-business product.

Microsoft says that the HoloLens 2 Development Edition will become available in 10 additional countries by the end of the year: Canada, Germany, France, UK, Ireland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Italy.

In early 2021 the company says its previously promised financing option—allowing developers to buy the headset by paying in increments of $100 per month—will become available in “early 2021.”

Now Anyone Can Buy HoloLens 2 Direct from Microsoft

HoloLens 2 has been available to Microsoft business partners and developers since last year, however anyone else interested in the augmented reality headset would have to jump through a few hoops first to get their hands on the device. Now Microsoft has opened sales of HoloLens 2 to anyone with the cash on hand.

Up until now, prospective HoloLens 2 owners would have to either contact an official reseller or sign up for a special developers program, making this the first time when John Q. Public could buy a HoloLens 2 direct from Microsoft without any additional fuss.

Customers will be able to buy the $3,500 headset itself and a host of replacement accessories including a carrying case, a USB-C charger, straps, and forehead pads of varying sizes. All of those come in the box already, but it’s nice to know you can buy a spare if need be.

Image courtesy Microsoft

Microsoft is only selling HoloLens 2 direct to online customers, so you most likely won’t be able to buy it in a Microsoft Store.

We first went hands-on with HoloLens 2 at Mobile World Congress (MWC) last year, and it proved to be a capable AR headset that, despite some misgivings on how the field of view was initial misrepresented at its reveal at the Barcelona-based trade show, showed some real material improvements over its predecessor.

It packs in a number of features not present in the original 2015-era HoloLens, the most prominent of which is eye-tracking. Eye-tracking not only lets users select UI elements simply by looking at them, but also allows developers to know where a user is looking to better optimize AR apps by better understanding user behavior. Check out the full specs below:

HoloLens 2 Specs

Display Optics: See-through holographic lenses (waveguides)
Resolution: 2k 3:2 light engines
Holographic density: >2.5k radiants (light points per radian)
Eye-based rendering: Display optimization for 3D eye position
Sensors Head tracking: 4 visible light cameras
Eye tracking: 2 IR cameras
Depth: 1-MP Time-of-Flight (ToF) depth sensor
IMU: Accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer
Camera: 8-MP stills, 1080p30 video
Audio and speech Microphone array: 5 channels
Speakers: Built-in spatial sound
Human understanding Hand tracking: Two-handed fully articulated model, direct manipulation
Eye tracking: Real-time tracking
Voice: Command and control on-device; natural language with internet connectivity
Windows Hello: Enterprise-grade security with iris recognition
Environment understanding 6DoF tracking: World-scale positional tracking
Spatial Mapping: Real-time environment mesh
Mixed Reality Capture: Mixed hologram and physical environment photos and videos
Compute and connectivity SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 Compute Platform
HPU: Second-generation custom-built holographic processing unit
Memory: 4-GB LPDDR4x system DRAM
Storage: 64-GB UFS 2.1
WiFi: Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac 2×2)
Bluetooth: 5
USB: USB Type-C
Fit Single size
Fits over glasses
Weight 566g
Software Windows Holographic Operating System
Microsoft Edge
Dynamics 365 Remote Assist
Dynamics 365 Guides
3D Viewer
Power Battery life: 2–3 hours of active use
Charging: USB-PD for fast charging
Cooling: Passive (no fans)
Contains lithium batteriesSee more information >

Thanks to Jad Meouchy of the AR/VR data analytics company BadVR for pointing us to the news.

The post Now Anyone Can Buy HoloLens 2 Direct from Microsoft appeared first on Road to VR.

Spatial Opens VR/AR Collaboration Platform to all, From Smartphones to Oculus Quest

Spatial

Spatial has been developing its combined virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) collaboration platform for a while now, looking to help teams work together no matter where they are or what platform they’re on. The current coronavirus pandemic has forced this kind of technology into the forefront of peoples minds, in doing so changing Spatial’s plans in the process. Which is why today the tech startup has announced the platform is now freely accessible for a range of devices including Oculus Quest.

Spatial

The Spatial app allows users to get together, discuss projects, import content such as 3D models and even share their PC screens, all from inside their device. One of Spatial’s most interesting features to make the experience more personable is the use of realistic avatars, where users upload a selfie which is then made into a 3D model.

Designed as an enterprise solution, the opening up of Spatial’s premium services to everyone free of charge means whether you’re in VR or on an iPhone you can test the service out. As for the Oculus Quest version, that was only ever available in private beta, with Spatial pushing ahead with development in the last few months to ensure a public version could be released.

“Now is a time when feeling connected is needed more than ever, and while video chat is great, it just doesn’t replace people collaborating in the same room,” said Spatial CEO Anand Agarawala in a statement. “Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a surge in interest for Spatial’s services, ranging from Fortune 1000s, to schools and hospitals, to SMBs. We really wanted to respond to the global need and make Spatial Enterprise freely available to serve as many people as possible as we all navigate new territory with home and work life.”

Spatial

“By opening up our immersive collaboration platform and allowing access on the devices people already have, we hope to connect more people in a way that isn’t confined by space, location, or even a pandemic,” adds Spatial CPO Jinha Lee.

Spatial offers one of the most device-agnostic platforms for remote networking, supporting Oculus Quest, Magic Leap, Microsoft HoloLens 1 & 2, Android, iOS, Nreal, PC and via web app. Free access will only be available for the next few months to help people connect during the pandemic. Once it has subsided Spatial will return to a premium service model.

VRFocus will continue its coverage of Spatial, reporting back with the latest updates.