Guiding robots and drawing on the Internet of Things: the potential of the holographic computing headset being developed by Microsoft seems almost limitless. Which raises the more basic question of what role Augmented Reality will play going forward.
Microsoft keeps coming up with new applications for its connected glasses. The ‘mixed reality’ HoloLens headset is now in a position to assist in the robotics field, Microsoft Tech Fellow Alex Kipman revealed in a recent demonstration at the Holographic Academy in San Francisco. Although he was focusing mainly on using the HoloLens to help guide ‘homemade’ robots constructed by amateur enthusiasts and ‘makers’, the implications of the technology go much further.
How it works is that the connected glasses gather data on the immediate environment, its contours and any obstacles in the way and transmits this information to the robot, thus avoiding the need to fit the robot with powerful sensors to enable it to navigate its way around within the space. Meanwhile, data is also fed back from the robot to the headset to enable the user to visualise what is going on without having to set up a physical screen, which would increase costs. This basically creates a sort of virtual extension of the physical robot, the Microsoft demonstration showed. So quite apart from use in ‘DIY-robotics’, there would appear to be enormous potential here for applications for use by larger-scale robot manufacturers as well.
Robot pathway steered by holograms
As well as little robots like the one put together by the HoloLens team, there are plenty of other connected objects that could exploit the potential of these Augmented Reality glasses. The headset can be used as a control centre – basically a data transmitter-receiver – which means that this invention could be used by major manufacturers. In fact the headset allows the user to visualise the movements which the robot is about to make before it does so. “HoloLens helps developers understand robots better at any scale or in any scenario,” claimed Kipman’s co-presenter. This type of application could be extremely useful for the automobile industry, Microsoft points out.
HoloLens can interact with, and take control of, real-world objects.
What ultimate connection between real world and software?
Basically what Microsoft has set out to do is explore all kinds of interactions between the physical and virtual worlds. The software giant intends to bring the entire real world under the control of its Augmented Reality system and make devices such as the HoloLens indispensable for commanding robots. Once again here we have the basic issue of the relation between the real world and the Internet of Things and manufacturers are still wary of seeing valuable complementarity turn into absolute dependence. Microsoft’s main competitor in this field, Magic Leap, has been less vocal lately but few doubt that the Google-owned startup is about to unveil some new applications in the near future. Augmented Reality seems in fact to be facing some of the same issues as Virtual Reality: whether to tackle the world head-on or indulge in escapism, helping to use existing physical objects more effectively or transforming them into something totally dependent.