The applications for tourism are a long way off, but Microsoft's HoloLens has the potential to impact the travel user experience by providing contextual information with immersive 3D holographic storytelling.
Microsoft opened the HoloLens Developer Experience Showcase at its Manhattan HQ last week for software developers to try out the new HoloLens headsets, so they can build apps for the “first-ever, fully untethered holographic glasses, powered by Windows 10.”
Skift was invited to take the glasses for a test drive, although everything is purely conjecture at this point. Microsoft will begin shipping HoloLens to developers sometime in Q1 2016, which means any potential applications for mainstream consumer travel are a year or two away.
The Microsoft HoloLens technology is not to be confused with virtual reality (VR). With VR, users are transported to a self-contained digital world completely separated from their immediate physical environment.
The HoloLens experience is more similar to augmented reality (AR), like the Google Glass platform. Traditionally with AR, you’re fully aware of the present environment, and at the same time, you can also access additional online information from the cloud or localized beacon transmitters.
Microsoft is positioning HoloLens as the next generation of wearable AR, which it’s calling “Mixed Reality.” You’ve seen something like this conceptualized before in the movies, many of them with Tom Cruise or Iron Man.
A person pulls up a floating, transparent computer desktop image in mid-air and swipes through different liquid-like screens while manually manipulating the digital information, which has no physical properties. It’s just light, or more accurately, a hologram.
Microsoft’s HoloLens tech creates high-definition 3D holograms just like that. The imagery can only be seen by people wearing a HoloLens headset, who can walk around, over, through and under the floating images for a full 360-degree view.
The user can also create and edit holographic content just like you can with content on a computer drive, except without using a keyboard. The user chooses different editing tools by looking at them in the viewfinder and lining up the circular crosshairs that acts like a cursor rolling over a desktop icon.
Then the user raises a finger in front of the glasses to make a “finger tap,” or he or she can issue a verbal command, to complete a desired action.
Now the user is inside the computer standing next to the content and talking to it, kind of like in the movie TRON. Microsoft characterizes it as “3D in 3D.”
HoloLens In Action
We participated in three different HoloLens experiences last week beginning with the “HoloStudio.”
Standing in the middle of a darkened room, you can see a floating holograph of a tool box full of digital tools to build holographs. HoloStudio was specifically developed for industrial designers, and already, companies like Volvo have signed partnerships with Microsoft to further develop the technology.
Next, “Project X-Ray” is a fully immersive HoloLens game experience. You have to physically move around the room and duck below lasers being fired at you from holographic aliens coming out of the walls and flying all around your body.
Lastly, the “Holographic Storytelling” experience has potentially the most interesting appeal for the tourism industry.
Our session featured a holographic watch that the user can expand and disassemble to see all of the moving parts. Aiming your view at a specific spot next to certain parts of the image opens up a window with additional information about that particular element.
With multiple users, the HoloLens can provide heat graph data to illustrate the parts of the holograph that users viewed most.
The Microsoft Holographic Storytelling experience is basically like being inside a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. So far, most of the suggestions about how HoloLens might impact the tourism industry have focused on opportunities for pre-travel research and presentations using the Storytelling functionality.
Although, the VR industry is already way ahead in that field. As Skift covered recently, Shangri-La Hotels sent Oculus Rift VR headsets earlier this year to all of its sales teams worldwide to show their customers new hotel and destination content prepared specifically for VR platforms.
In addition, Oculus Rift will be releasing affordable consumer grade headsets in 2016, which will drive exposure and scale usage exponentially, primarily spurred by the gamer market.
HoloLens for Business Events
How HoloLens will impact tourism specifically is anyone’s guess. Perhaps in the meetings sector, a convention bureau could create a Google Map-based holograph showing all of the hotels, shops and restaurants in a specific neighborhood. Potentially, planners could then import beacon data post-event into the holograph to show the most popular places visited, illustrated by the heat graph functionality.
On a more micro level, a hotel or convention center could do the same thing to map all of the meeting rooms and sessions for any given event.
Holographs can also be used as digital monitors floating on a wall so remote HoloLens users can video chat with each other. Imagine transporting yourself into your iPhone to use FaceTime.
Convention attendees could potentially wear HoloLens through a trade show floor to communicate with a remote audience. There’s a lot of excitement in the meetings industry around hybrid technology, blending face-to-face and virtual meetings, and this is a tool that could take that to the next level.
There are also some interesting potential opportunities for speakers wearing HoloLens, who could interact with both live and remote audiences at the same time. That would require a custom camera, as shown in the above videos, that can transmit the holographic imagery to a large screen for everyone without HoloLens headsets to watch.
This technology is an example of creating something that’s truly amazing with the belief that if you build it, they will come. Hundreds of developers have already signed up to tour the HoloLens Developer Experience Showcase in New York, but any real practical future of this in tourism is next, next generation.
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Photo credit: HoloLens creates 3D high-def holographs that users can manipulate with voice commands. Microsoft