Microsoft reveals more on HoloLens hardware, gets 3D print boost from AutoDesk

Microsoft has offered a closer look at its HoloLens virtual reality headset and locked in a deal with Autodesk to bring 3D printing and modelling to Windows 10.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has revealed more about its forthcoming virtual reality headset, HoloLens: hardware that’s packed with sensors and a double-layered lens to deliver untethered holographic computing to the masses.

The company has taken a different tack to other VR systems on the market, designing HoloLens so as not to block out the real world, but rather allow the holograms it generates to co-exist with the real world, delivering more of a blended reality.

Given the device is braced to the user’s head, HoloLens fortunately “weighs significantly less than the average laptop”, Microsoft said. Also, its engineers and designers have built the VR set so it can be adjusted for a range of head sizes and also accommodate most eyewear.

The HoloLens may not weigh as much as a laptop, but it contains everything found in one, including core and graphics processors with an additional invention from Microsoft called the Holographic Processing Unit (HPU).

“The HPU gives HoloLens the real-time ability to understand where you’re looking, to understand your gestures, and to spatially map the world around you. Conceived, designed, and engineered by Microsoft, the HPU is designed specifically to support the needs of HoloLens,” Microsoft’s head of next generation devices, Todd Holmdahl said.

To round out the holographic experience, the company has also worked on creating spatial sound so that users can hear a hologram from different directions. In addition to those sensors, it includes microphone array for capturing voice commands, a depth sensor to spatially map the user’s environment and read hand gestures, as well as a photo and video camera to share images.

Finally, the headset has an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer that together form what Microsoft calls an “inertial measurement unit” or IMU, which works together with head-tracking cameras. Microsoft doesn’t explain what the magnetometer, which is used to measure magnetic fields, is used for but the overall purpose of the IMU is to keep track of where the user’s head is moving.

(There’s a closer look at the device and its construction in this video.)

According to Holmdahl, Microsoft’s plan is to bring holographic computing it to all Windows 10 devices.

Separately, it’s also done a deal with 3D modelling software maker Autodesk to bring the company’s 3D models to HoloLens.

It will be possible to use Autodesk’s Autodesk Maya and Fusion 360 to build 3D models that can viewed in HoloLens. The idea is to help game developers and filmmakers speed up the development of new offerings, or to help engineers develop full-scale models during the design phase of product development.

Autodesk is also lending a hand on Windows 10, embedding its Spark 3D printing software in Microsoft’s OS. Autodesk said its Spark APIs will be able for free to the Microsoft developer community.

“We’re approaching a tipping point with 3D printing, which means there is a huge market opportunity waiting for companies developing applications for Windows 10,” Steve Guggenheimer, chief evangelist for Microsoft, said.

“By providing the 3D printing building blocks found in the Spark platform and optimizing it for Windows 10, Autodesk has empowered our global developer community to confidently enter this new world of additive manufacturing.”

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