With the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) banning laptops and tablets on flights originating from 10 international airports, and the United Kingdom taking similar precautions, international travelers are faced with hours of non-productive — or far less entertaining — flight time.
Microsoft HoloLens users, however, may have a workaround, as smartglasses are not currently subject to the ban. Developer Sean Ong recently demonstrated a mixed reality workspace through his HoloLens, with input through a mouse and keyboard.
Users equipped with HoloLens, mouse, and keyboard can emulate their mixed reality workspace on flights where laptops and tablets are restricted.Image by Sean Ong/YouTube
In a proof-of-concept video, Ong is shown browsing the internet, answering email, and updating spreadsheets during a 14-hour flight from Dubai to Seattle on board an Emirates flight. In the video, Ong is able to move the windows to various depths in the workspace. And, just for fun, a 3D shark animation appears outside his window.
Ong shared some details of his experience in an exclusive interview with Next Reality.
Tracking goes a little wacky [with] holograms flying all over the place during times of turbulence. [It was] irritating, but probably about just as irritating as trying to work on a laptop during turbulence, if you know what I mean. Mouse and keyboard work incredibly well for stuff like this. I wish some of my screens could have been placed on my meal tray, but they were a little too close for the HoloLens, hence why you saw the screens placed a little further away.— Sean Ong
Since the ban applies to electronics that are larger than a cell phone or smartphone, this loophole also gives smartphone users with a mouse and keyboard a similar opportunity for computing. As Ong's video shows, the HoloLens gives him a much broader workspace than a smartphone would.
However, according to a Q&A page published by the DHS, the definition of what is larger than a cell phone or smartphone is left up to interpretation.
The size and shape of smart phones varies by brand. Smartphones are commonly available around the world and their size is well understood by most passengers who fly internationally. Please check with your airline if you are not sure whether your smartphone is impacted.— DHS Q&A page
In terms of physical size, HoloLens is larger than a smartphone. Its battery is also larger than your typical smartphone, though its capacity is less than a standard laptop battery.
"The airport security was really confused at what the device was, and asked a lot of questions," said Ong. "But as soon as I put the device on and they saw the transparent lenses, then all was well and they let me through."
DHS and Emirates were asked for comment on this story, but neither replied as we went to press.