Microsoft unveiled the HoloLens at its latest //build/ developers conference. Needless to say, it is quite impressive. The demonstration made the audience aware of what the HoloLens is capable of, but Microsoft has kept the lid shut on the hardware details. During the presentation, Microsoft offered a few insights into what lies beneath the casing of this augmented reality futuristic headset.
We have seen Virtual Reality headsets from Oculus(Facebook), Valve, LG, etc., but unlike most, Microsoft is using a see through lense to allow the user to see the rest of a room or the environment that they are in. This allows the user and the HoloLens to interacting with your surrounding environment, very similar to the way Google’s Glass is setup. The HoloLens uses a combination of spatial sound and sensors in the headset to capture information about the environment that the user is in. What is Spatial sound? Spatial sound works by using binaural audio, to make sounds appear like they’re being transmitted from behind you or from anywhere in the environment you’re situated in. Very like Google Glass, there is a video camera placed in the HoloLens headset to enable you to take photos or capture video.
Microsoft has used a variety of sensors in the HoloLens. There is a microphone array that captures voice commands, a depth sensor with Microsoft has developed into the headset to spatially map the environment and to understand hand gestures such as the air tap feature to click, drag and drop, and navigation. You will also find that there’s an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer that all combine with head tracking cameras to process and understand how a head is moving. Even with all of these sensors, chips, lenses etc, the weight all adds up to a headset that is said to weigh a lot less than the average laptop.
It’s amazing what one can fit in such a small yet powerful device, the HoloLens includes a CPU and GPU, just like you would find in a laptop or PC. “But that wasn’t enough to handle all the processing required to understand our world, so we had to go beyond the traditional CPU and GPU,” explained Todd Holmdahl, head of Microsoft’s next generation devices team. Microsoft had to create its very own holographic processing unit (HPU) which acts as a third processor to process where you’re looking, hand gestures, and the spatial map around you in real-time. It’s a custom processor designed specifically for HoloLens.
While Microsoft is offering some new details about its HoloLens headset hardware, the company still isn’t providing detailed specifications or an explanation of exactly how HoloLens works without any wires or tethering to a phone. Where do I place my order, I’m sold!
The rumour mill has been put into overdrive and the promise of the Microsoft HoloLens technology may be attractive to Samsung, if this new rumor is correct. As Chinese whispers state, Samsung wants to enter into a partnership with Microsoft to develop the HoloLens, specifically for the healthcare industry. This report comes from The Korea Times, via an unnamed official at Samsung, who is quoted as saying:
“Samsung has been looking for opportunities to manufacture innovative, pioneering products. Hololens is a key technology for healthcare and medical devices.”
I advise to take this rumour with a large pinch of salt as Samsung is already partnering with Oculus to develop its Gear VR virtual reality headset that works with some of its smartphones. The report also points out that Samsung has more experience than Microsoft in developing its own sensor chips and processors, and a team-up with Microsoft could lead to a VR standard based on the HoloLens.