How will we interact in a world where virtual and augmented reality – with devices like Microsoft Hololens – are the norm? Read on to find out...

“Microsoft has always a vision – that mobile devices are windows into the digital world,” says Dave Coplin, Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer. “To provide the best experience, you want to be able to reach into the digital world no matter where you are or what you’re doing, take the best it has the offer, and then use that to improve your real world experience.”

The last time we spoke to Dave he was talking about all things mobile, but today he’s turning his attention to virtual and augmented reality. And that’s where this idea – of the digital world building on the real one – comes into play. So what’s the next big development in that space? And how will we get to a world in which virtual reality (VR) and augmented realty (AR) are widely used?

Welcome to the real world

“One of the things I’ve loved this summer has been playing Pokémon GO,” Dave explains, “not just because it’s fun, but because it’s actually driven an important conversation about augmented reality in everyday life. It’s not just technology geeks playing the game, it’s you, me and the person sat next to you. And it’s something that Dave and Microsoft believe is the future for a lot of fields – from gaming to engineering.

Enter Hololens. For those in the dark, Hololens is Microsoft’s pioneering augmented reality headset, which is now in the hands of developers around the world. With Hololens you can project games, apps and screens onto surfaces in your real world environment, letting you stick a virtual TV screen on your wall, or play a game of Minecraft on your coffee table. Check it out in action below:

“What’s interesting is that for our entire history we’ve lived and seen and played in three dimensions, but a lot of what we do has always been in 2D because we always write things down or have them on a flat screen.

“These new emerging technologies – augmented reality and holograms – are going to push us into a world of three dimensions, where being able to create objects and information in 3D will be absolutely crucial. You could argue to an extent that the future of creativity will lie in three dimensions,” Dave adds, “because devices like the ones we hold in our hands, or products like Hololens, are going to be able to consume and display that kind of information back to us.

“So how do we create tools that make this generation of 3D content a reality? How do we build reports and documents in three dimensions? And how will that affect the normal things we do? For example, if you’re having a conversation with someone who’s there as a holographic avatar, the dynamic of that conversation would be different to if they were standing there in person – we have to start preparing for that world.

“It’ll take us a while to work out how to do it right. If you remember when mobile phones arrived, it took us about a decade to figure out that we can turn them on to silent mode so we didn’t have to annoy everyone in the cinema. We’ll go through the same kind of digital etiquette with these tools – we’ve got the human side of things to get right before we progress too quickly.”

Holograms without the headset

All this is exciting, ground-breaking stuff, but at the same time it’s important to realise that we’re still in the baby steps phase of augmented reality – something Dave is keen to point out:

“We’ll have interesting augmented reality coming through that you can use on anything from Google Cardboard to Oculus Rift, or in the next Xbox (Project Scorpio) – which will have AR and VR capabilities – but for now the reality of holograms is that they have very niche use cases.”

“Over time it will go further,” Dave says, “but at this point the limiting factor for holograms is the headset. There’s a middle ground, which will be based in augmented reality delivering some value to your immediate locations – like being in the supermarket and seeing recipes brought to life around the physical products, but I still think wide spread use of AR and VR is a way away.”

But once the headset becomes a distant memory? The sky’s the limit…

“The ultimate goal is holograms without the headset,” says Dave. “We (and other companies) have prototypes in our labs capable of projecting objects in three dimensions that you can see without a headset. It’s hard, and it’s expensive, and the resolution isn’t great, but it’s just the beginning of that journey.

So having a conversation with your far flung relatives in their holographic form in your kitchen is still a long way off,” he says in closing, “but it is the direction the technology is moving in, and that spells exciting times ahead…”

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