Microsoft’s HoloLens is bringing us one step closer to Star Wars holograms

"What is thy bidding, my master?"

Microsoft’s HoloLens has a lot of potential, bridging the gap between augmented and virtual reality. The technology is very young and nowhere near being ready for consumers. When developers get their hands on HoloLens later this year we’ll probably start seeing some great practical applications, but so far all we’ve seen are basic tech demos. Microsoft Research’s latest demo, “Holoportation“, might be the best use of the technology yet. The demo lets users view a hologram of someone who is communicating live from elsewhere. “Help me Obi-Wan. You’re my only hope.”

In the demo video for Holoportation, Shahram Izadi stands in a room by himself yet is visited by a colleague and shares the same 3D virtual space with him in real-time. In the other room, the colleague’s body and movements are scanned and projected into his surroundings using a mixture of augmented and virtual reality. Through the headsets, Shahram and his colleague can see their own rooms as normal but can also see the virtual “hologram” versions of each other. This sort of thing has been done before but never with this quality. It has to be seen to believed so check out the video:

We like that Microsoft are showing off the technology honestly, warts and all. Sometimes it’s a little rough around the edges and that’s all right, it is very young technology after all. We see so many video presentations of projects that don’t reflect the actual product but Microsoft seem happy to show off the tech without dressing it up too much.

Obviously the most interesting use for Holoportation is just being able to have a face-to-face Skype call where you’re actually sitting in the same room with someone. Interestingly, it could have quite fascinating playback features too. At the end of the video, Shahram’s daughter plays with toys in another room and is projected in his room and he can move around her and watch her play. The system is also tracking Shahram’s body movements.

Image © Microsoft Research

The reason Shahram’s movements are tracked is usually so another user can see him too. What this means is that the entire interaction between two participants can be recorded and played back. Because HoloLens uses a VR headset, it lets you walk around the interaction you were looking from a third person perspective. You can see yourself as well as the others. It’s something we’ve never really seen before. It’s like you’re viewing a conversation as a ghost. The interaction can also be shrunk down if you want to see everything at once.

We’re not sure what to make of the playback feature. The technology is interesting and it could be nice to relive fond memories, but what about when someone dies and their movements live on in a hologram? Would being able to see them again in person be a good thing or not? Would it help or hinder the grieving process?

We’re obviously getting ahead of ourselves as the tech won’t be available for a few years at least. Even then, it will have to be improved if it’s going to become mainstream. In the video demo, Shahram is surrounded by sensors that take up a lot of space. It will be expensive and impractical for most people to have this kind of setup. Hopefully HoloLens can be scaled down in the future and we can all issue demands to our apprentice Sith Lords from the comfort of our own ships.

Main image © Lucasfilm