At the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco last week, the company finally allowed developers to get their hands on its new holographic viewing device, the HoloLens. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tried it out.
A ball of scrunched-up newspaper lies on a desk alongside colourful, triangular objects. I raise a finger in the air, and make a tapping motion on the ball. It rolls off the desk with a rustling noise. As it hits the ground, it suddenly explodes amid a cloud of smoke.
When the smoke clears, it reveals a gaping hole in the floor. Inside the hole, a cavernous green world appears. As I move around the edges of the hole, the view shifts to reveal layer upon layer of vague subterranean constructions. Red paper planes float about in the “sky” below like birds.
I speak a command: “Reset world”.
Instantly, the floor is back to its normal state of being, well, a floor. The ball of newspaper is back on the desk. I walk round the ball, examine it from each side, and from above and below. It is completely intact.
I pull the visor off my head, and the ball and desk disappear. I cautiously step on the carpet where the hole had appeared. Completely solid.
The scene that had just played itself out had been made possible by a new device called the Microsoft HoloLens. It is essentially a hologram viewer, but is also somewhat more. It is the first system that makes it possible to view holograms through a viewer that is not dependent on wires, connection to a computer or external cameras.
Unlike virtual reality viewers, like Samsung’s Gear VR, the HoloLens allows virtual images to be overlaid on the real world. The concept is termed “mixed reality” and, unlike augmented reality, allows the user to interact with the image. It could, for example, be an application like a calendar hovering in mid-air, and allowing the user to click on an appointment to expand the entry.
Applications for the HoloLens are built on a new platform called Windows Holographic, which allows developers to import applications and scripts, integrating images and commands into the user experience. As long as a program has been created as a universal Windows application – a standard application built to function across all Windows devices, like notebooks, tablets and smartphones – it can be imported directly into Windows Holographic.
The HoloLens was first announced in January, and formally unveiled to developers at Microsoft’s Build 2015 conference in San Francisco last week. During the conference, Microsoft ran a Holographic Academy, a four-hour deep dive course for developers wanting to learn how to build applications and experiences for the HoloLens. A 90-minute version offered a comprehensive introduction to the platform, allowing non-coders – including this writer – to get a detailed idea of what goes into building a holographic application.
At heart, the process is designed to locate a virtual object in the physical world, and to enable control via gaze – visual focus is key to pinpointing where an action will be executed – gesture and voice.
With gesture control, Microsoft has introduced a new gesture, simply comprising holding a finger in the air and simulating a tap on a keyboard – except it takes place in mid-air, executing an action represented by the spot where the gaze is focused. Voice can also be used to execute such commands, as well as to reset the scene, should the user get lost in the process.
The end result is magical. For a developer, the experience of making an object or application come to “reality” in mid-air is like seeing a new world for the first time. For the user, it is mesmerising to be able to stroll in and out of a virtual scene or application.
And this is no mere frivolous entertainment concept. It has massive implications for health and education.
During an opening keynote presentation at Build, the audience was treated to some of the dramatic, yet down-to-earth possibilities: A medical lecturer walking around a high-definition hologram of a heart, explaining its functioning; a paleontologist exploring a dinosaur skull; an architect demonstrating bridge construction.
That’s even before we get to the more visionary uses, like controlling the Mars Rover as if one is standing alongside it on the surface of the red planet; directing a virtual robot through a hazardous environment.
In one demonstration, a plain room is transformed as a virtual screen is placed on one wall and begins to run a movie; virtual furniture appears; and a live weather forecast from a standard weather app floats in mid-air.
Of course, the objects only exist while viewed through the HoloLens. Voice- and gesture-recognition allows only the viewer to interact wit the scene. In future versions, however, it is likely that multiple users will be able to interact jointly with a specific hologram. During the hands-on session, trainers refused to be drawn on the possibility, saying only that they are not yet talking about such functions.
Commercial release of the HoloLens is not yet scheduled and pricing strategy is still to be formulated.
Microsoft clearly wants to avoid the Google Glass debacle: the search giant had created massive expectations with its eye-level computer, but was blind-sided by and equally massive consumer and social backlash. It eventually pulled the plug on the project, and has gone back to the drawing board.
The HoloLens is a far larger and more overt gadget than Google Glass, but therein lies its greater appeal: it is very obviously a viewing device for specific purposes, and is not attempting to hide itself as a “wearable” like glasses.
The real key, of course, is whether people will find it more useful and more compelling to interact with a 3D hologram rather than a flat image on a screen. The fact that 3D movies have so far failed to convert a mass market that prefers movies flat on a screen, should provide an early caution against getting too excited about holograms.
However, if it can go beyond gimmicks like exploding floors and obvious educational applications, it may well bring new magic to the world of information and entertainment.
Password managers don’t protect you from hackers
Using a password manager to protect yourself online? Research reveals serious weaknesses…
Top password manager products have fundamental flaws that expose the data they are designed to protect, rendering them no more secure than saving passwords in a text file, according to a new study by researchers at Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).
“100 percent of the products that ISE analyzed failed to provide the security to safeguard a user’s passwords as advertised,” says ISE CEO Stephen Bono. “Although password managers provide some utility for storing login/passwords and limit password reuse, these applications are a vulnerable target for the mass collection of this data through malicious hacking campaigns.”
In the new report titled “Under the Hood of Secrets Management,” ISE researchers revealed serious weaknesses with top password managers: 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass. ISE examined the underlying functionality of these products on Windows 10 to understand how users’ secrets are stored even when the password manager is locked. More than 60 million individuals 93,000 businesses worldwide rely on password managers. Click here for a copy of the report.
Password managers are marketed as a solution to eliminate the security risks of storing passwords or secrets for applications and browsers in plain text documents. Having previously examined these and other password managers, ISE researchers expected an improved level of security standards preventing malicious credential extraction. Instead ISE found just the opposite.
Click here to read the findings from the report.
MWC: Next generation of inflight connectivity to be unveiled
Next week at Mobile World Congress, the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal progress on its mission towards enabling the next generation of inflight connectivity. This follows a significant start for the Alliance, which has seen membership increase five-fold since the first meeting in June of last year. The Alliance has a new research laboratory setup and continues progress through its three working groups, writing specifications for the technology, requirements, and operations.
These developments represent a huge leap towards the goal of making connectivity as easy and enjoyable in the skies as it is on the ground. Appearing as part of the Airbus stand (Hall 6, stand 6G34), the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal specification topics that have been completed and published to its membership.
“The passenger experience with inflight connectivity remains one of the great technology challenges. From Day One we have been determined to deliver on our mission to bring industries and technologies together to make the inflight internet experience simple to access and a delight to use,” said the Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Mandala.
“I have been tremendously encouraged by the enthusiastic and committed response we have seen and the widening areas of expertise we can call upon as more and more companies and organisations continue to join us,” he added.
Announced during MWC 2018, the Seamless Air Alliance has since grown to twenty-three membercompanies with more than one-hundred key personnel from across the membership participating in its three working groups, with numbers continuing to increase.
The Seamless Air Alliance was created by founding members Airbus, Airtel, Delta Air Lines, OneWeb and Sprint, and quickly joined by Air France KLM, Aeromexico, and GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes and global technology leaders including Astronics, Collins Aerospace, Comtech, Cyient, iDirect, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Latecoere, Nokia, and Panasonic.
Today, the Alliance is pleased to announce five additional new members: Adaptive Channel, Etihad Airways, GlobalReach Technology, Safran, and SITAONAIR.
“We are extremely pleased to have these companies join and be a part of the companies driving the next generation of connectivity.” said Mr Mandala.
The Seamless Air Alliance will enable travelers boarding any flight, on any airline, anywhere in the world, to use their own devices to automatically connect to the Internet with no complicated login process nor paywall to scramble over.
The Alliance is also announcing the release of a new research study on the economic benefit of standardization on the inflight connectivity market at Mobile World Congress. This report is available for download at https://www.seamlessalliance.com/publications/
The Alliance is moving rapidly towards an expected demonstration of the technology later in 2019 and anticipates massive interest in Barcelona from the whole communications eco-system.