Microsoft's mixed-reality marvel, the HoloLens, is still very much in the experimental phase, but innovative individuals and companies are already seeing the potential in its business and industry applications. While announcing at an event that it would make the HoloLens available to an additional 29 markets in Europe, Microsoft touted the technology's potential to revolutionize the workforce, with an emphasis on features for first-line workers as well as information workers.
How HoloLens can help
There are plenty of examples of how the HoloLens can benefit information workers, the employees who are always planning and collaborating in the office. Microsoft hopes that the HoloLens will free these employees from the limits of their desks and computers. Remote workers and multiple offices miles apart are becoming more common for businesses, but the HoloLens can bring them together to still collaborate in real time. The HoloLens will allow these employees to …
- Interact with 3D content. Designers, architects and engineers will be able to use the HoloLens to interact with 3D renderings of their schematics and designs, allowing them to manipulate the object in real time and make alterations. This interface has the potential to change how certain professionals do their jobs and how they are trained.
- Hold mixed-reality meetings: Meetings with the HoloLens will allow team members, both on location and remote, to view the same content, such as 3D schematics or 2D graphics, in real time and make alterations and suggestions. The remote participants will be represented by avatars, but will feel like they're there in the meeting room.
However, Microsoft maintains that the HoloLens isn't just for the office and that, with creativity from developers, it can be dispatched to parts of the company you may not have considered yet.
First-line workers are described as employees who aren't at a desk, who interact with customers, who are out in the field or who work with their hands. The HoloLens offers features and the potential for apps to modernize these workers' jobs where technological advancements have been few and far between. Here are a few examples.
- Field service assistance: Workers who are out in the field, doing repairs and maintenance, can use the HoloLens to connect with a remote expert to assist them with specific problems. The expert back at the office can see what the field employee sees and highlight things in their field of vision in real time.
- Training: Live or programmed training can walk employees through operating equipment, guide them on a tour of a new workspace and provide other hands-on lessons, with interactive tutorials and feedback.
- Space planning: The HoloLens can render objects inside an empty storefront or office so you can plan the layout of your new workspace. This can also be used by contractors who want to see live renders of projects and renovations.
- Real-time data readouts: The augmented reality technology in the HoloLens will give employees analytics on specified objects that are connected to network, giving them the data they need for their job instantly.
Microsoft announced that the HoloLens passed basic impact tests for protective eyewear standards in North America and Europe, and was also tested and graded for dust protection. Microsoft is also producing a hard hat accessory that will be compatible with the HoloLens, to be released in early 2018. These features make the HoloLens safe to take out into the field, in hazardous areas and on construction sites.
What companies are using it?
Several companies have been utilizing HoloLens technology already, including elevator service company Thyssenkrup. Maintenance crews will use the HoloLens to contact other technicians for support. The support staff can relay important data, schematics and other information directly to the field crew. According to the company, the device's crew support makes maintenance four times faster than before.
Stryker is a medical technology company that, among many services, designs operating rooms for hospitals. The company has been using the HoloLens to visualize how the operating rooms are configured and easily make alterations without having to move the real equipment around.
Ford is also taking advantage of the HoloLens' ability to render 3D modifications to real-life objects. Designers are able to instantly see how different parts would change the look of a car. This can be done within a virtual meeting, where participants from all over the world can view the prototypes live.
The Microsoft HoloLens isn't cheap. For a Commercial Suite version, each unit goes for $5,000. The Developer's Edition goes for $3,000. But a handful of companies already are experimenting with the HoloLens; though just a few within that group have fully integrated it into their normal workflow, as developers keep creating useful applications and frameworks for the device, it won't be long before more businesses start getting interested. It's clear Microsoft wants industry members to see the HoloLens as not just a novelty device for gamers and enthusiasts, but a serious contender for changing the workforce.