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Microsoft shakes up Computex with mixed reality showcase

Mixed reality could be the next big boom for PC manufacturers, with several Windows headsets joining Microsoft’s own HoloLens

Leading PC manufacturers are beginning to support Microsoft’s vision of the extended PC, using virtual reality (VR) headsets for gaming and business applications.

Several PC makers unveiled virtual reality headsets at this week’s Computex Asia conference in Taipei. Among them was Microsoft, which introduced its HoloLens mixed reality headset with Windows 10.

It showcased how the VR headset is used at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Labs to help scientists working on the Curiosity Rover project understand the Martian landscape. 

In March 2016, the technology was used to show the general public what the Mars landscape looked like.

It also has more serious applications in space. “By connecting astronauts to experts on the ground, mixed reality could be transformational for scientific and engineering efforts in space,” said Abigail Fraeman, a Curiosity science team member at JPL.

HoloLens has also been used to help civil engineers inspect bridges.

At its Build developer conference earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled the mixed reality developer kit, supported by hardware from Acer and HP. These have now been joined by Asus, Dell and Lenovo.

In a blog post about the headsets, Peter Han, vice-president of partner devices and solutions at Microsoft, wrote that the PC suppliers were using Microsoft’s platform to enable a single and consistent user interface, standardised inputs and a universal app platform for developers.

Mixed reality applications require a different set of development skills to more traditional web and enterprise applications. Specifically, the Microsoft platform supports the Unity3d games developer platform.

In a blog about HoloLens and mixed reality last year, Forrester research director Travis Wu wrote: “Mixed reality blends holograms with the real world to marry agility and powerfulness. HoloLens brings this concept to life, it is light enough for users to move around safely, and it is very powerful because it is a self-contained computer that doesn’t require tethering to another PC. HoloLens could drastically change the way people work, live or even think, we are all very eager to see if the first wave of HoloLens products will successfully establish an ecosystem that can sustain mass market deployments and future growth.”

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  • Gatwick has installed 2,000 beacons to help passengers find their way around the airport using augmented reality maps.
  • Workers around the world found themselves following Pokémon Go characters around their offices in 2016. It won’t be the last time we see augmented reality technology in the workplace.

It would appear this ecosystem is about to get a new bolt of energy with the release of a host of mixed reality headsets from all the leading PC manufacturers.

Discussing the business impact of mixed reality headsets in January, Gartner analyst Brian Blau, said: “Business use cases are broad. In coming years, field service workers – those who maintain utilities, infrastructure, machines and equipment – will benefit because their work is often ‘hands-­busy’ tasks.”

The headset could provide visual overlays of diagrams, complex instructions, event recording or enable immersive remote collaboration, according to Blau.

Mixed reality promises to drive a whole new way of thinking about human-computer interaction.

“The result will be a plethora of new computing experiences that drive increased productivity across many industries, improved effectiveness of individuals in their work, and exciting new developments in the leisure, entertainment and retail sectors,” said Blau.

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