There Are Aliens Crawling Out Of My Walls

There Are Aliens Crawling Out Of My Walls
January 20, 2017

A robotic alien blasts its way through your office wall, pulls itself through the opening and anchors three metallic appendages into the drywall. Smaller drones start rocketing through a hole in the center of its body, buzzing around your head with homicidal intent.


Though it might seem like it, this is not a workday hallucination. It's a game played using the Microsoft HoloLens, a cutting-edge new technology capable of bringing 3-dimensional virtual words to life within real-world settings.


Developers with Grand Rapids tech firm Open Systems Technologies (OST) believe the immersive "augmented reality" enabled by the smartglasses have potentially game-changing applications for industries from healthcare to warehousing. Watch a brief demonstration of how the HoloLens works:

Karl Sanford, a senior app development consultant with the company, explained the sensation that overcomes someone when they take the glasses off. "It almost makes you feel like you're missing something when you're not using it," Sanford said. "Like, now it's just a boring wall. There's no robots flying out of it."


The $3,000 piece of computer hardware is worn like a pair of very expensive, very heavy glasses, with an adjustable strap holding them in place.


Sanford admits the price is high.


"At its face, it does seem like a lot," he said. "But when you consider that it is an untethered, fully self-contained computer that can overlay 3-D images in a 3-D mapped real environment, $3,000 isn't too bad."


The first-person shooter takes advantage of that technology, challenging players to defend their homes and offices from a "militaristic swarm of interstellar robots" who have come to Earth after silencing countless worlds elsewhere in the galaxy.


Watch Open Systems Technologies eradicate the virtual robots as they blast through the office walls:

Called RoboRaid, it's a whole lot of fun. But it's not what gets developers like Sanford so excited about the HoloLens. "It's really meant to enhance your physical space," he said. "That's really where the power comes in."


Another out-of-the-box application currently available allows users to create, place and manipulate 3-D items in whatever real physical space in which they are standing. Using the device's gesture recognition, you can place an astronaut -- or other 3-D object of your choosing -- in the corner of your office.


Just don't tell your co-workers, because those without a HoloLens won't be able to see it. "It kind of blows your mind," Sanford said. One workplace application already being considered for the HoloLens is among those in West Michigan's warehousing industry.


"Imagine loading a pick list into this for a warehouse," Sanford said. "And now some kind of line shows up literally in front of you and guides you, physically, in the space to where you need to go; to where it's located, to what you need to grab."


One of the things that makes the HoloLens unique is that it can recognize specific physical spaces, meaning it remembers where virtual items belong in a particular space.


To say it another way, the virtual astronaut you place in the top, northwest corner of your office will stay in that location even after you take the HoloLens home and come back the next day.


Wireless connectivity allows the device to gather and incorporate information while you move through a space. For example, Sanford said, a technician could walk through a hallway and diagnose plumbing issues being fed from flow valves mounted on pipes inside the walls.


Other examples of the device's potential applications range from rapid prototyping in the manufacturing industry to surgical simulations where anatomical structure is overlaid onto a physical dummy.


 "People are still figuring out how to use it," Sanford said.


That fact is a big part of why the local company obtained the HoloLens via a developer preview before it was made available to consumers late last year, according to OST Director of Marketing and Communications Michael Lomonaco. "For us, being a global technology design and consulting firm, it's really important that we have the pulse on new technologies," Lomonaco said.


Having an understanding of the HoloLens, its capabilities and its limitations, he said, gives clients access to a new tool with broad potential to change how business is done.


That could mean connecting clients with some of the out-of-the-box software already available for HoloLens, Lomonaco said, or it could mean OST developing fully-customized new software to help a client address specific problems.


As Sanford concluded a demonstration of the technology, a curious crowd gathered to take turns trying out the HoloLens. It's something that happens almost any time someone pulls out the device, he said. "Aside from be it being capable of some pretty practical applications, it's just plain fun," Sanford said.

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