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The Hololens Academy: How I Became a Novice Wizard

At last week’s Microsoft Build conference, I attended the Hololens Academy — a whirlwind effort to turn me into a master programmer able to create things out of thin air. It failed. Apparently it takes longer than an hour to teach someone who hasn’t coded in decades to be a master programmer — go figure.

However, by the end of the class I was gleefully throwing fireballs at the heads of my co-wizards and their digital familiars. That took me down a Hogwarts-like path to the idea that with Hololens, doing things pretty similar to what Harry Potter did in the movies won’t be that difficult.

Microsoft’s Hololens

Microsoft last week started shipping Hololens to developers, and I’ve now spent a number of hours playing with the product over various phases. It is very different from virtual reality, in that it blends what is real around you with what is being rendered.

With VR, you currently get a choice of two types of solutions: the untethered solution, which uses a smartphone in a head-mounted carrier and allows you to move around but lacks high performance; and the Oculus Rift solution, which is tethered to a high-end PC and far more real, but incredibly dangerous because you are more likely to trip over the cord or damage that high-end PC.

Both of these have issues with stuff around you, though, as neither integrates what is around you, resulting in a lot of stories of folks taking headers over furniture (which often doesn’t survive the encounter). I’m starting to wonder whether a VR requirement is a padded room.

Hololens is both untethered and takes into account what is around you. If two people are wearing the headsets, they could seem to be sitting across from each other at a table, even though they physically were thousands of miles apart.

This has led to the concept of holoportation, which also was showcased last week, and the idea that in an instant, you could move to virtually any place in the world and actually feel like you were there. This also showcased that you effectively could capture full 3D instances of persons or pets, and create the impression that they were still with you — particularly if you layered on some form of advanced artificial intelligence — long after they had passed.

Wizarding World

Now that the tools surrounding Hololens are improving, it has become possible for more and more people to create interactions with the offering. That was the purpose of the Hololens Academy. Once I could create, animate and share virtual items that others could see and interact with, the result actually started to feel like magic.

Magical gestures or commands could create, delete, move or animate the objects we created, and it began to feel as though with just a few adjustments, that we actually could breathe virtual life into them at some future point.

With a connection to some form of general-purpose robotic construct, you even could create things with variable appearances that could interact with the real world. Suddenly, with a core set of programing skills and an imagination, you could emulate most everything Harry Potter did in the movies — including fighting dragons and throwing fireballs. Granted, flying on a broom or breathing underwater likely would require tools we don’t yet have.

Playing With Magic

The final task we were given at Hog…, I mean the Hololens Academy, was to create fireballs, throw them at our constructs, and blow holes in the floor. We previously had been introduced to our avatar familiars — little floating robots that hovered just over our shoulders — and they provided targets for our fireballs.

We weren’t wearing anything like a VR vest that would translate fireballs hitting us into physical sensations, but we could stun and even blow up some of the strictly virtual familiars.

You could see that turning the robots into owls wouldn’t be that hard, and replacing finger gestures with light sticks (or wands) for casting actually might improve accuracy — and certainly the connection to magic. By the time it was over, I was in full-blown Harry Potter imagination mode.

I do think it would be wickedly cool to go all in and actually use these to create a full-on Harry Potter experience. I expect, given that we already are talking about using VR headsets on roller coasters, that it’s very likely Harry Potter World someday will have a ride that uses a future version of Hololens, and it will be amazing.

Wrapping Up

I don’t think we have scratched the surface of what we could do with future versions of Hololens and the idea of creating magical entertainment experiences. Imagine games that blend the virtual with the real — for example, a tennis game in which the rackets could change the image and capabilities of the ball once it was hit, granting more or fewer points based on degree of difficulty.

Pokémon for real and the ability to have wizard battles in the actual world are just the tip of the iceberg.

The next few years truly could be amazing as we blend Hololens with AI and robotics to create worlds and experiences we can’t even imagine now. I can hardly wait.

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