Technology & Science

Microsoft's HoloLens demoed with Minecraft, Skype, NASA

Microsoft's unveiled an augmented reality visor that projects computer-generated 3D objects into your field of view that you can interact with. So far, it has impressed many technology journalists who have tried it.

Users can interact with virtual objects using gestures

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      Microsoft's new HoloLens – an augmented reality visor that projects computer-generated 3D objects in your field of view – has impressed many technology journalists who have tried it.

      Microsoft offered some journalists demonstrations of the prototype unveiled this week at its Windows 10 event, which was streamed online from its Redmond, Wash., headquarters. It allows users not just to see the images, but interact with them using a finger gesturing feature called Air Tap.

      The demos included:

      • A Skype call, in which the user was asked to fix a light switch with the help of an expert they were talking to. The user could see arrows and other crude diagrams drawn by the expert projected onto an object they were trying to fix. 
      • A Minecraft game, in which game worlds of castles and monsters were projected onto real-world furniture such as tables. Users could walk around them and punch holes in walls or use their fingers to make changes to the environment. Microsoft bought Minecraft-maker Mojang in September.
      • A NASA simulation that allows the user to explore the surface of Mars.

      NASA and Microsoft are developing software called OnSight that will let scientists working with the Curiosity Rover "walk around and explore Mars right from their offices," said Dave Lavery, program executive for the Curiosity mission, in a statement.

      In the Minecraft game, worlds of castles and monsters are projected onto real-world furniture such as tables. Users can walk around them and punch holes in walls or use their fingers to make changes to the environment. (Microsoft)

      So far, those who have tried the demos are impressed.

      Ars Technica's technology editor Peter Bright called the experience "nothing short of magical" and said the 3D effect in the Minecraft demos was "thoroughly convincing." Wired writer Jessi Hempel, who tried the device back in October, called the prototype "amazing."

      The Verge's executive editor Dieter Bohn and senior editor Tom Warren, who tried the device after Wednesday's news conference, had mixed feelings about the device. They called it "probably the most intriguing (and in many ways most infuriating) technology we've ever experienced since the Oculus Rift." Oculus Rift is a much-anticipated virtual reality headset whose maker was purchased by Facebook last March.

      While both Bohn and Warren seemed to like the device, Bohn said it was "depressing" to know that objects viewed with the technology couldn't be treated like real objects.

      Microsoft says HoloLens is expected to release more information about HoloLens at its Build conference starting April 29 in San Francisco.

      In a demonstration Skype call, a user could see arrows and other crude diagrams drawn by the person they were talking. Those were projected onto an object they were trying to fix. (Microsoft)

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