The arrival of these devices marks the first time that Microsoft has brought a new product to its hardware line since the Surface and Surface Pro back in 2012.
However, we must not forget the mobile phones launched by Microsoft-owned Nokia, of course.
“Holographic computing, enabled by Windows 10, is here, ” claimed Alex Kipman, project Hololens’ chief inventor. “We are constantly processing terabytes of information from all around us. Imagine if technology has the same sensing capability to process all of this input about the world around us, so it can see the world as we see it.”
HoloLens marks the software giant’s first foray into the world of virtual reality computing.
Unlike competitors, Facebook-owned Occulus VR and Samsung, Microsoft aims not to immerse the user in an entirely virtual environment but instead to bring the virtual environment into the real world in the form of what it calls “interactive holograms”.
It is one of the first computers to operate solely using voice and gesture based commands.
Microsoft demonstrated Hololens’ capabilities by designing a 3D model of a quad-copter in front of the audience at the Redmond event using Microsoft’s new Holo Studio app, built for Windows 10.
HoloLens is designed to operate as an entirely stand-alone device, no tethering to a PC or smartphone required. The CPU and GPU processors are supplemented by a third processor, the holographic processing unit (HPU), to handle the intense data gathering from the 18 on board sensors.
The speakers for HoloLens sit just above the ears and are advertised to offer spatial sound. This means sounds associated with the hologram will seem to come from the same position regardless of your own orientation in relation to it.
Most interesting is the way the computer creates the hologram and projects it into your own field of view. The transparent lenses in front of each eye are made up of three layers of glass, each corrugated with tiny grooves to form diffraction gratings.
Visible light is projected onto the lens by a so-dubbed “light engine”, and is diffracted and reflected between the layers of glass, using constructive and destructive interference of the light waves to create a virtual object in the user’s field of view.
On-board sensors maintain the stability of the hologram as you move around it.
The project is still very much in its development phase and no launch date was confirmed for HoloLens.
According to Kipman, it will be coming to the market “within the Windows 10 time frame”.
Microsoft also used the event to introduce the Surface Hub, a keyboard-less computer with an 84-inch 4k touchscreen display with built-in palm-rejection technology.
The computer is designed to work without the traditional keyboard and mouse and, to accompany the multi-touch display a wealth of motion sensors are included to enable gesture based interaction with the device.
The housing contains dual high-resolution cameras and an array of microphones, so voice and gesture commands can be heard and seen in business meetings.
The Surface Hub comes loaded with Windows 10, further demonstrating Microsoft’s ambition to unite all of its hardware platforms under a single operating system.
As well as running applications such as note sharing via OneNote and conference calling via Skype, it can an also run traditional Windows applications. So it is possible to call on a particular plot of data from within Matlab or a CAD design in AutoCAD.