Microsoft's HoloLens being used on a virtual truckHandout / Microsoft
WASHINGTON, D.C. — You’d think the full-sized 18-wheeler sitting in the middle of the exhibit floor in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center would be guaranteed to attract attention, as well as presenting an obstacle to the flow of attendees at Microsoft’s Inspire partner conference.
It would have been quite the distraction, too, if anyone could have physically seen it.
Fortunately for those who wandered down the aisle, they could stroll through the vehicle with no worries. Literally. It was only visible to someone wearing a Microsoft HoloLens.
That’s because this was a virtual truck, created from the real thing by Vancouver’s Finger Food Studios to allow designers at truck manufacturer Paccar to test out elements of a new Kenworth model and see which ones improved fuel efficiency the most.
Wearing a HoloLens, they can digitally swap bumpers or headlights or anything else, then plonk the design into a virtual wind tunnel to see how aerodynamic it is.
In the real world, that exercise would have involved a lot of time and money, sculpting and re-sculpting clay models. With HoloLens, it’s a matter of clicking a virtual button or two.
And who says mixed reality is just for gamers?
Certainly not the folks at Deschutes Brewery. The Bend, Oregon-based craft brewery needed to have a closer view of the parameters involved in its fermentation process to ensure consistent quality and reduce waste. In partnership with OSIsoft — whose PI System collects, analyses, visualises and shares sensor data using the Microsoft Azure cloud — Finger Food built a virtual brewery that overlays streaming live data on its virtual components for a mixed reality experience.
Now, instead of making an (admittedly educated) guess about when to stop fermentation and proceed to the next production step, the brewmaster can immediately see exactly when the beer is ready. And as opposed to discovering equipment malfunctions when it’s too late to save the batch, the plant manager can find and fix issues when indicators first appear.
Finger Food’s HoloLens interface Handout / Microsoft
Supervisors can leave virtual sticky notes or videos at key locations to keep operators and other supervisors up to date when they’re away. The solution even embeds Skype, so a technician can call a remote expert into the virtual environment if need be, and it also includes Microsoft’s intelligent assistant, Cortana, to inject some machine learning smarts.
All this illustrates what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as the new paradigm: the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge (an opportunity, he said, worth US$4.5 trillion), defined by multi-sense experiences, an infusion of artificial intelligence, and technologies like server-less computing and containers. That paradigm has driven Microsoft to embed new components in its products, and to pull other products together into integrated offerings.
Microsoft 365, for example, will combine Office 365 (including three new applications, now in public preview: Microsoft Listings, Microsoft Connections, and Microsoft Invoicing), enterprise mobility and security, and Windows 10 in a subscription-based model that has AI built in. Azure Stack extends Microsoft Azure cloud into the corporate datacentre to provide a hybrid computing model.
It’s extending the realm of VR/AR as well. The next HoloLens will have an AI coprocessor that will allow it to perform tasks like voice recognition and object recognition without an Internet connection. That will expand its scope further, both in entertainment and commercial applications, moving it even closer to being a practical tool as well as an interesting toy.