Microsoft mixes gaming and industry to make HoloLens 2 the king of MWC gadgets
Mobile World Congress (MWC) is an operator show, run by the GSMA operator group, that has always looked and sounded like a handsets show, dominated by device makers. On Sunday night at MWC 2019, as Samsung and Huawei gathered the blogger world in cavernous rooms around the city, Microsoft took to the stage to unveil something different. It wasn’t a handset, and it wasn’t a toy. It was an industrial-grade gaming machine for Industry 4.0.
The HoloLens 2 is the follow up to the company’s original HoloLens mixed-reality goggles, which have been built on the company’s Xbox gaming expertise, but have found their footing in the industrial space, as a new-era work-tool for enterprises on an Industry 4.0 kick. The HoloLens 2 takes things further, and, in terms of significance, was as much a show-stopper at the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X.
In terms of impacting digital change, it was much more. And it was strange, but telling, that Microsoft (still experimenting with facial hair, in sneakers and sloppy shirts), shared the stage with the industrial set (mostly sharp-suited, clean-shaven, a little grey haired). For HoloLens2 is not a toy. Priced at $3,500, it is built for business, to go with a hard hat, as a mixed-reality powerhouse.
Notably, it will complement the digital twinning being done in industry, and assist with training and maintenance programmes.
Towards the climax of the Sunday launch in Barcelona, Microsoft’s Alex Kipman (a “technical fellow”) had Jim Heppelmann, president and chief at Needham-based Industry 4.0 stalwart PTC on stage with him. Maria Wilson (“global leader in data driven advantage”), from UK based mechanical or industrial engineering firm Howden was alongside. This is its prime audience.
MWC 2019, in general, felt like a show that sought to make Industry 4.0 mainstream. It wasn’t just Enterprise IoT Insights and similarly focused trade sectors and trade publications tuning in for a view of the latest digital transformation technologies. It was the world, and the HoloLens 2 is arguably the headline act in gadget terms.
PTC and Howden presented their work with Microsoft. Howden, a Colfax company, is using AR/MR with PTC’s Vuforia Studio and HoloLens 2 to improve worker efficiency. Howden makes products for mine ventilation, waste water treatment, and heating and cooling. Reusing existing 3D models, it created scalable step-by-step mixed reality service instructions with Vuforia Studio.
Incorporating IoT data from PTC’s ThingWorx and Microsoft Azure, Howden is changing how customers use and experience its equipment. Wilson said: “Our equipment typically operates as process critical, and our customers are looking to us for solutions to empower them on how to best service their equipment. Using mixed reality rendered on Microsoft HoloLens, the customer experience is truly immersive. It provides insights into the operating conditions and performance of the equipment that they’ve never had before.”
PTC showed another proof. BAE Systems needed to accelerate its battery assembly process to reduce the backlog and deliver to customers on time. It used PTC’s Vuforia Studio to create immersive mixed reality experiences for Microsoft HoloLens to accelerate the assembly of complex battery cells for their HybriDrive buses. Using Vuforia Studio BAE was able to leverage existing CAD data and animated sequences from PTC’s Creo Illustrate, subject matter experts created immersive 3D MR work instructions, increasing throughput by 50 per cent and reducing training time by 30 per cent.
Heppelmann said: “One of the key value drivers for AR/MR in the industrial space is improving worker efficiency with ‘hands-free’ procedural guidance and instruction. Vuforia Studio’s efficient AR/MR authoring environment and HoloLens 2 usability and comfort enhancements are a winning combination for industrial manufacturers.”
The HoloLens 2 features improvements to the display engine and in its manipulation of holograms. A new display system maintains its predecessor’s holographic density of 47 pixels per degree of sight but doubles the field of view. It also has a new depth sensor, which makes use of AI and language and linguistics processing (“semantics understanding”), to enhance enable direct manipulation of holograms. Microsoft claims this upgrade achieves “the same instinctual interactions you’d use with physical objects in the real world”.
HoloLens 2 also contains eye-tracking sensors to make interactions more accurate, and enable users to access systems via iris recognition. This makes it easy for multiple people to share devices easily and securely, it said.
The new version is more comfortable, Microsoft reckons. It uses a lighter carbon-fibre, brings better balance, and introduces a new “dial-in fit” system to make it comfortable for heavy usage. A number of new Dynamics 365 mixed reality applications are also available, including Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, Layout and an updated Guides. Microsoft talked up its partner ecosystem, too
“This partner ecosystem is being supplemented by a new wave of mixed reality entrepreneurs who are realising the potential of devices like HoloLens 2 and the Azure services that give them the spatial, speech and vision intelligence needed for mixed reality, plus battle-tested cloud services for storage, security and application insights,” said Julia White, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft said the combination of Vuforia Studio and HoloLens 2 will enable content creators to leverage 3D and IoT data from ThingWorx and Azure to improve collaboration, understanding, and productivity in real world environments. Kipman commented: “The integration of Vuforia and Microsoft HoloLens 2 continues our collaboration with PTC and advances our efforts to provide transformative experiences for our customers within the manufacturing arena. We look forward to our collaboration providing innovative out-of-the-box solutions that accelerate the adoption of mixed reality in the industrial space.
Microsoft made a number of other announcements at MWC, including its new Azure Kinect DK developer kit, combining AI sensors in a single device. It features the same time-of-flight depth sensor as the HoloLens 2, alongside a high-def RGB camera and a seven-microphone circular array that will enable development of advanced computer vision and speech solutions with Azure.
It also unveiled two new Azure mixed reality services to help developers build cross-platform mixed reality applications. Azure Spatial Anchors is designed as a design tool for apps that map, designate, and recall precise points of interest that are accessible across HoloLens, iOS and Android devices. PTC’s Vuforia will make use of the Azure Spatial Anchor Service to enable more collaborative, cross-platform mixed reality experiences, said PTC.
Meanwhile, Azure Remote Rendering renders high-quality 3D content in the cloud and streams it to edge devices – “in real time, with every detail intact”. The point is to avoid the requirement of other 3D design software to simplify of complex models.
HoloLens 2 is priced at $3,500, and will be available this year. Bundles including Dynamics 365 Remote Assist will start at $125 per month. Kinect DK is available for preorder at $399. Azure Spatial Anchors is in public preview. Azure Remote Rendering is in private preview, in advance of its public preview.