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Hololens gives AR big push

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Microsoft’s HoloLens has massive ramifications for businesses and professionals. We are already seeing the aviation, engineering and medical spheres embracing it and finding ways to harness its capabilities, writes ETIENNE DE VILLIERS of Fuzzy Logic.

Earlier this year, tech juggernaut Microsoft began shipping the developer’s version of its HoloLens AR headset. A device that has been in development for years, the HoloLens is the first ever fully untethered, holographic computer – which enables users to interact with high‑definition holograms in the real world.

For developers worldwide, and indeed, for individuals and businesses, the Microsoft HoloLens has the potential to transform the way we work and interact with our physical environments. While the cost of the device ($3000) remains prohibitive to the average consumer, it is already being embraced within certain industries and sectors.

Contextual Wizardry

Arguably, the HoloLens is the first device that is demonstrating the real power of Augmented Reality (AR) and its potential applications in both business, and in the longer term, our day-to-day life. One of the most compelling elements of this technology is its ability to use the context you are in, and then overlay information around or onto that physical context. So, while Virtual Reality (VR) takes you into an entirely new context, the HoloLens uses AR to enrich and enhance your own, current context.

Imagine, for example, you are in your garden and you spot an unfamiliar plant. Using the HoloLens, the idea is that by simply looking at the plant and asking the question about what it is, the answer will pop up onto the screen – overlaid onto your view of the plant. From here, you can ask other questions such as, will it work in my garden? How do I care for it?

For AR developers, the key will be to ensure that this contextual ability is seamlessly integrated into the HoloLens, so that it becomes a natural extension of our world and our work.

Untethered, Unlimited

While AR and VR have been around for many years, it is the ‘untethered’ element of the HoloLens that makes it so exciting and transformative for developers. Because it is a headset the user’s hands are freed, and in combination with excellent hand tracking technology, it opens up the opportunity for entirely new experiences that are far more interactive and immersive. And unlike AR applications on a smartphone, which use the smartphone’s camera as its ‘eyes’, the HoloLens’s see-through display allows the user’s own eyes – and therefore own, real world context – to shape and guide the experience. No longer are you limited by your device’s camera view – it is your own, real world view that is providing the context.

This ability, and the resulting immersion in both the real and virtual world, has massive ramifications for businesses and professionals. Picture a paramedic rushing to an accident, and encountering a very serious and complex emergency scene. Using the HoloLens, this paramedic can connect – via Skype – to specialists located back at the hospital, who will then be able to ‘see’ what the paramedic is seeing. They can then guide the paramedic, step by step, by overlaying digital information and guidelines onto his immediate view of the physical scene in front of him.

Businesses on the AR Bandwagon

Although many of these scenarios remain purely hypothetical at this early stage, some companies are already leveraging the HoloLens within their operations. One such company is the engineering giant thyssenkrupp, which is using the technology within its elevator business. The company has pioneered the use of the Microsoft HoloLens amongst its army of service technicians.

Using the device, the technicians are able to visualise and identify problems with elevators ahead of a job. Prior to tackling any task, a technician can view a detailed, 3D image of the elevator, and then zoom into any part – offering endless training opportunities as well. These technicians then arrive at the actual site better prepared than ever before.

In addition, they have remote, hands-free access to technical and expert information when on site – with the HoloLens able to trigger a remote call to a subject matter expert. According to the company, the device saves huge amounts of time, stress and effort. A job that normally takes 1-2 hours, now takes less than 20 minutes, reports one company spokesperson.

A Universe of Opportunity

As many who are close to this technology have asserted, we are only scratching the surface of what AR, and devices such as the HoloLens, can truly offer. The early adopters, for now, will be those industries and sectors that rely on sophisticated and expensive technology, and who can afford the high costs associated with research and development. Indeed, we are already seeing the aviation, engineering and medical spheres embracing the HoloLens and finding ways to harness its game-changing capabilities. For local businesses and industry leaders, it is well worth keeping an eye on this fast evolving technology and planning for ways to leverage its immense potential.

Etienne de Villiers, Lead Programmer at Fuzzy Logic

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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