Reality Has Changed. Microsoft’s HoloLens and what you need to know about the next wave of Augmented Reality

All hands on (holo)deck! 2015 is ramping up to be the year of Augmented Reality (AR). hololens Microsoft threw their hat into the ring today announcing HoloLens, their AR headset lead by Kinect inventor Alex Kipman. Remember “Fortaleza” the AR glasses we had a peek at in the leaked Xbox 720 document in 2012? Say hello to the HoloLens prototype in 2015.

The community has been quick to point out the similarities between existing AR eyewear like Meta’s SpaceGlasses, but how is HoloLens different?

HoloLens appears to use a Virtual Retinal Display (VRD).

So, what’s VRD, you ask?

VRD mirrors how the human eye works. The back of the eye receives light and converts it into signals for your brain. Images are projected directly onto the retina with the back of the eye used as a screen effectively.

The result is a more true-to-life image than the ‘ghostly transparent superimposed representation’ (as Gizmodo reporter Sean Hollister describes) we’ve seen with AR eyewear before. Hollister details his experience of Microsoft’s prototype as “standing in a room filled with objects. Posters covering the walls. And yet somehow—without blocking my vision—the HoloLens was making those objects almost totally invisible.” He states, “Some of the very shiniest things in the room—the silver handle of a pitcher, if I recall correctly—managed to reflect enough light into my eyes to penetrate the illusion.”

hololens2 In an exclusive interview with Wired’s Jessi Hempel, HoloLens’s inventor Kipman hints at VRD with his description of how HoloLens works by tricking the human brain into seeing light as matter.

“Ultimately, you know, you perceive the world because of light,” Kipman explains. “If I could magically turn the debugger on, we’d see photons bouncing throughout this world. Eventually they hit the back of your eyes, and through that, you reason about what the world is. You essentially hallucinate the world, or you see what your mind wants you to see.”

I personally can’t wait to see what my mind wants me to see, particularly in this second wave of AR. For me, AR is about extending human capacity and the human imagination, not supplanting it. I’ve been working with AR for a decade now and it’s tremendously exciting to see this all quickly becoming a reality. We have a whole new medium waiting to be defined.

Microsoft’s HoloLens is currently a prototype with no price or release date announced, and we’ve yet to see what Magic Leap will unleash into the world, but I can promise you this: AR is coming in hot and fast. We WILL experience the world in unprecedented ways. Reality has changed. Read more about the next wave of AR in my upcoming book. 40ideasweb And as always, let’s continue the conversation on Twitter: I’m @ARstories.

The Importance of UX Design in Augmented Reality

The definition of augmented reality is quickly expanding to move beyond gimmicky 2D and 3D digital overlays atop reality to more context-driven and personalized experiences. The new AR combines contextual computing with things like machine-learning, artificial intelligence, sensors, big data, and social media to deliver highly relevant information and experiences that are tailored, adaptive, and even predictive.

So what does this mean for UX design?

There is a tremendous opportunity for UX designers to lead the development of this emerging medium to change the way people experience reality.

Herein lie the challenges, and also the immense opportunities:

The new AR will be highly adaptive, based on the user’s continually changing environment and context. This will require UX designers to create a seamless experiences across environments, and multiple devices, with an acute awareness and sensitivity to shifting context where the user is always at the centre. Wearables will play a major role in the new AR, not limited to digital glasses like Google Glass. There will be a plethora of data continually analyzed about the user and their surroundings ranging from demographics to historical (past behaviours and interactions) to situational/environmental (including things like location, current device, time, weather, and even mood).

How will this data all come together to create a relevant experience delivered in a natural and intuitive means that is human-centric? How can we apply UX to be in a more reciprocal relationship with our new devices and this new technology?

Technology should not interrupt our lives, yet work in the background, appearing when needed to enhance productivity and connectivity to the things that matter to us most. As a UX community, we must ask, ‘How can we design AR experiences to enhance and make a user’s life easier?’ Nicholas Negroponte said, “Computing is not about computers anymore. It is about living”.

How do we want to live in and with AR, and how will it shape people’s lives? This will be the UX designer’s task.


Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter: I’m @ARstories