Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Microsoft upgrades HoloLens for industrial AR

William Payne
February 28, 2019

Microsoft has launched a new version of its augmented reality headset, the HoloLens. CEO Satya Nadella announced the HoloLens 2 at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona. The company has boosted the headset's field of view and its resolution, jumping from 720p to 2K per eye. The $3000 headset is aimed squarely at industrial, business and infrastructure applications.

The new HoloLens is lighter than its predecessor, and features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 chip rather than the Intel processor of its predecessor. This gives it far more processing power, allowing more detailed holograms and viewing angles that are much broader.

The new carbon-fibre headset makes it possible to wear spectacles, is easier to adjust, and is cooler to wear. All this makes it more suitable for wearing for long periods of time in industrial or business applications.

Microsoft has also added improved eye-tracking and understanding of users' interactions. The new headset features AI that gauges users' manipulations of holograms, and can make on-the-fly optimisations.

The company has also released a new Azure Kinect device designed to allow developers to create AI-powered augmented environments. Azure Kinect combines the same depth-sensing camera technology found in HoloLens 2 with a circular microphone array and colour camera. It works with artificial intelligence services in Microsoft Azure. 

Azure Kinect can allow developers to build new perception capabilities like identifying when a saw is operating dangerously based on the sound it makes, enabling robots to judge distance when packing pallets or identifying which item has been selected from a store shelf.

Microsoft says these new technologies are powered by intelligent services that can perform computations wherever it makes the most sense, whether that’s inside a device — so it could quickly spot unsafe conditions — or in the cloud, where computing resources are better able to tackle complex problems. 

Microsoft also says these mixed reality and perception tools will make it more practical for companies to adopt an entirely new wave of computing that bridges the digital and physical world. It has been made possible by recent advances in the intelligent cloud and at the intelligent edge. 

“We are now in a place where this technology is solving real-world problems. You can really begin to see what this new wave of computing looks like and how it translates into real business outcomes, and I love that,” said Julia White, Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure marketing.

Microsoft says the new HoloLens 2 provides a far more immersive, instinctual and comfortable experience for first-line workers whose hands are occupied by physical tasks. It can help them diagnose a problem with a jet engine or access step-by-step holographic instructions to assemble an electric bus battery. The person using it can go backwards to double-check a step with a nod of her head or a voice command. The person is able to see in three dimensions — on the physical equipment she is working on — precisely where each screw needs to go, or what direction to turn a ratchet.

The company says that compared to the first generation of HoloLens, HoloLens 2 offers new features like the ability to grab and rotate holograms as one would a real object rather than having to learn specific gestures. Eye tracking can sense when someone’s eyes land on a particular part of a machine and call up useful digital information about it. Words automatically scroll as the user reads.