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Live demos are hard, and when they screw up in front of a big crowd of people, it can be painful to watch. We got an awkward reminder of this fact earlier this week when the Hololens 2 presentation meant to kick off the keynote at Microsoft’s Build conference fizzled in front of a live audience and thousands watching on the live stream.
The demo was meant to show an interactive model and demonstration of the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon, but the models never appeared and the presenters had to abandon ship. It’s the kind of moment after which you expect the Curb Your Enthusiasm music to pipe up and the live chat gets overrun with “LOL” messages. Unfortunately, the errors got in the way of the fact that it’s actually a cool demo and HoloLens has come a long way.
What is HoloLens?
Microsoft announced Hololens 2 earlier this year. It’s the second version of the company’s augmented reality headset, which projects digital images onto a translucent screen in front of the wearer’s eyes. The resulting effect places digital objects into the real world—at least as far as the wearer’s brain is concerned. Think of it as kind of like VR, but with a see-through headset.
Laser projectors in the headset beam images into oscillating mirrors, sending light into etched pieces of glass called waveguides that create holograms in front of your eyeballs. A typical virtual reality headset, in contrast, simply shows each one of your eyes a separate pictures on OLED or LCD display to create an immersive picture.
HoloLens 2 arrived earlier this year, five years after the original version. The updated headset has a much wider field of view that covers more of a user’s peripheral vision—the limited coverage was one of the most criticized features in the original. The processing guts inside are also considerably faster, which you would certainly expect from a product that’s four years newer.
The tech is vaguely similar to the Magic Leap headset, which achieves a similar function of mixing reality and pixels and allowing you to interact with objects—and even creatures—that only exist in digital form. The $3,500 Hololens, however, isn’t meant for entertainment, but rather industrial purposes. So, if a factory worker needs information about a product they’re assembling or a technician wants real-time instructions about how to reassemble a machine, Hololens can help do that.
What is the demo?
While HoloLens is a relatively proven technology, it still requires the proper conditions to work, like a fast, reliable wireless connection, which isn’t a guarantee in a crowded theater. The video depicts a rehearsal from before the live show. John Knoll is the chief creative officer at special effects house, Industrial Light and Magic and space historian, Andy Chaikan walked through an interactive model of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and its individual parts. It’s the kind of educational interactivity that Microsoft has been touting for years now with its Mixed Reality platform, which uses a simpler approach to augmented reality that involves using a smartphone or a computer’s webcam to mix live video with virtual objects.
The demo’s ultimate purpose is to show off HoloLens’s compatibility with the Unreal graphics engine, which is a common tool that powers popular video games like Fortnite. Starting at the end of this month, developers working on the HoloLens platform will be able to use the Unreal Engine to develop for the headset. And even if you’re not planning on learning how to make your own AR content down the road, you can still enjoy watching tiny Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the simulated lunar surface.