Microsoft today unveiled the second generation of its HoloLens mixed reality headset, along with a surprise cloud-powered camera built on technology created originally for Xbox.
The device, which will be available later this year starting at $3,500, improves on three areas: more immersion, more comfort and greater simplicity right out of the box. One of the big knocks on the first HoloLens was a narrow field of vision, but the new version has doubled that.
Alex Kipman, Microsoft technical fellow and HoloLens creator, said the new device has tripled the comfort of the original, making it easier for people in areas like construction and manufacturing to wear the headset for hours at a time.
HoloLens 2 boasts more physical commands than the original. The device recognizes the user’s hands, and it allows users to touch virtual images and interact in several different ways.
HoloLens 2 launches with several kits to make it easier for large enterprises to build out mixed reality applications. Microsoft is also offering a customization program to help partners shape the device for their specific needs.
With this new device, Microsoft is doubling down on augmented reality — projecting the digital world on top of the real one — or mixed reality, as the company calls it. Kipman said Microsoft is committed to building an open ecosystem for HoloLens, highlighted by the fact that it will bring Mozilla’s augmented reality Firefox browser to the device, despite offering its own web browser in Edge.
The new $399 Azure Kinect camera is available for pre-order today. The camera builds on Project Kinect for Azure, a push Microsoft announced last year. The device is designed for developers to use with Azure services built around the internet of things.
The device includes a depth sensor, an HD camera and a spatial microphone array. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Julia White said the device is backed by Microsoft’s artificial intelligence muscle making sure it “doesn’t just see and hear, it understands.”
Ocuvera, a company that wants to prevent patient falls in hospitals is working incorporating with the Azure Kinect technology. It is building a smart camera that predicts when a fall could happen and sends notifications to nurses.
Microsoft’s streamed its presentation today at MWC, one of the most important gatherings for the mobile technology industry, on YouTube. You can watch it here:
The announcement of the a new HoloLens was not exactly a surprise. Alex Kipman, Microsoft technical fellow and HoloLens creator, recently posted a teaser video timed to Microsoft’s presentation in Barcelona that numerous reports linked to HoloLens 2. Then last night, images believed to show the device contrasted with the original model leaked online.
Rumors of an updated HoloLens have persisted since mid 2018. The device shipped in 2016 and was targeted at developers and large companies.
Microsoft has yet to release a consumer version of the headset — which costs $3,000 for a developer edition and $5,000 for a commercial suite. Microsoft has targeted a number of areas for the device, from medicine to construction to retail and service workers.
One of, if not the biggest HoloLens customer has created some internal strife at Microsoft. A group of employees this week called on the company to cancel a $480 million contract to outfit the U.S. Army with 100,000 HoloLens headsets saying they don’t want to be “implicated as war profiteers.”