How Microsoft Is Sowing the Seeds of an Augmented Reality Future

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How Microsoft Is Sowing the Seeds of an Augmented Reality Future

By Jonathan Vanian as written on fortune.com
In less than ten years, people will routinely interact with digital graphics and holograms beamed onto the real world.
That’s according to Lorraine Bardeen, Microsoft’s (MSFT, +0.77%) general manager of Windows and HoloLens experiences. Speaking Wednesday at the annual AWE conference for augmented reality in Santa Clara, Bardeen discussed why Microsoft sees the nascent technology becoming the next way people use computers beyond mobile touchscreens or the standard keyboard and mouse.
Opposed to virtual reality, augmented reality technology lets people see digital imagery overlaid onto the physical world. Microsoft refers to AR as mixed reality, and it is still a relatively new phenomenon that generated much interest after the popularity of last summer’s blockbuster mobile game Pokemon Go.
Over the past year, major companies like Facebook (FB, +0.36%) and Google(GOOG, +0.13%) have indicated they will incorporate AR tech in significant ways. Facebook, for example, debuted in April new developer tools and features that lets users apply filters to their photos to add special effects, like cartoonish mustaches.
One way Microsoft is trying to popularize AR tech is by revising its classic Paint app to let people draw and design 3D graphics as opposed to traditional two-dimesional images, Bardeen explained. Getting more general consumers—not just tech professionals—familiar with creating 3D graphics “is a fundamental building block” to popularizing AR because it helps accustom the general public to interacting with 3D content.
This fall, people will be able to project their 3D graphics created via the revamped Paint app onto the real world via Windows 10-powered PCs with standard cameras, Bardeen said. Of course, they will have to view the digital images through their computer’s monitor, but Bardeen said it would help the “hundreds of millions of people” who don’t have the appropriate headsets interact with AR tech.
Bardeen also showed a video of Microsoft’s custom studio, a small enclosure surrounded by 106 cameras being used to create 3D imagery people can embed in their apps. By capturing the motion of a person kicking a soccer ball or even a llama slowly walking, Microsoft can then convert those images into digital graphics that people will be able to see overlaid onto the real world with HoloLens or certain Windows 10 PCs.
Bardeen added businesses could use these stock images for purposes like “fan engagement” or “corporate training” similar to how they use traditional stock photography.
However, Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset that beams digital imagery onto the physical world is not available to the general public. Right now, it is only available for developers or businesses for $3,000 and $5,000. Although Bardeen did not say when Microsoft plans to sell the HoloLens to the public, she said new AR headsets released later this year via partnerships with other manufacturers will be “an entry point into this future of computing.”
Some of the companies slated to release these headsets by year’s end include Dell and Lenovo, although none of the companies have said how much they will cost.

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What the coming educational VR revolution teaches us about the tech’s future

Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) juvenile in water, over-under scene, Muskoka near Rosseau, Ontario, Canada.

What the coming educational VR revolution teaches us about the tech’s future

By Pete Sena as written on techcrunch.com
Imagine the following scenario: A fifth-grade science class has just begun and the teacher makes a surprise announcement — today the students will be dissecting a frog.
I’m sure you remember dissecting a frog as a kid — the sour-pickle odor of formaldehyde, the sharp scalpels slicing into rubbery skin. You don’t have to be an animal rights activist to grimace a bit thinking about it.
But here comes the paradox. In this scenario, like-minded fifth-graders who are queasy about cutting open animals are excited to participate in this dissection. Indeed, no animal was harmed when the specimens were collected. What’s more, the teacher promises the students that they won’t have to clean up a messy station afterward.
How? Thanks to the paradigm-shifting creations of zSpace, an educational VR/AR company, students can harmlessly dissect an animal on an interactive screen known as the zSpace 200. Students wear a special pair of glasses equipped with sensors and use a stylus that allows them to engage with a virtual image that can be turned or even disassembled.
By importing VR/AR into the classroom, one minute students can explore the anatomy and organs of an animal without harming it, and the very next build and test circuits or set up experiments that test Newton’s laws.
For young students who have been inundated by tech in almost every other domain of their lives, this form of learning comes naturally.
“Kids say, ‘Well of course it should be like this.’ They believe they should be able to reach into a screen, grab something, pull it out, and interact with it,” said Dave Chavez, chief technology officer of zSpace.
While VR is often discussed as a gaming technology, the gaming applications of VR are simply the first wave in a sequence that will profoundly shape the way we experience content over the next five years. Educational startups have been working on VR material for classrooms ranging from kindergarten through medical school. Current estimates project that the global edtech market will reach $252 billion by 2020; VR will capture a big chunk of this pie.

The next step in the democratization of knowledge is VR.

As for parents (and the rest of us), we continue to adopt the tech slowly. In 2016, only 6 percent of Americans will own a VR headset. While this can be attributed to cost and other barriers to entry that are being knocked down as the technology evolves, learning more about how VR is being used to reshape student engagement and communication teaches us more about how it will soon shape our digital experiences by serving as a conduit for previously impossible connections.
“Virtual reality puts people first,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg after his recent demo onstage at Oculus’ Connect Conference. “It’s all about who you’re with. Once you’re in there, you can do anything you want together — travel to Mars, play games, fight with swords, watch movies or teleport home to see your family. You have an environment where you can experience anything.”

The democratization of experiences

Throughout history, monumental developments have expanded society’s access to education. In the early first millennium BCE, the first written alphabets appeared and provided an easy medium for recording information relevant to the common good, whether it be a religious text or a business transaction.
The following centuries witnessed the creation of books and libraries, which then allowed for written content to be stored and accessed by more than just the super-wealthy.
Johannes Guttenberg’s invention of the moveable-type printing press in the 1450s made it even cheaper and more efficient to publish and purchase books on subjects like philosophy, mathematics and commerce. In the 20th century, the computer and internet transformed educational access more than any other past advancement, democratizing the world’s collective knowledge to anyone with a connection.

A student’s capacity to discover and learn will no longer be limited to the environment around them.

The next step in the democratization of knowledge is VR. This emerging educational platform will make it possible for students to virtually visit museums in other continents, communicate in virtual learning spaces with fellow students in Johannesburg, Beijing or Sydney or attend a lecture at a prestigious university thousands of miles away. It can not be overstated how important this is for the future of education — a student’s capacity to discover and learn will no longer be limited to the environment around them.
From a UNICEF Teacher’s Handbook based on facilitating the education of children around the world:

“Children learn best from experience. Children learn by doing, using their senses, exploring their environment of people, things, places and events. They learn from first-hand and concrete experiences as well as vicarious forms of experiences. Children do not learn as effectively when they are passive. Active engagement with things and ideas promotes mental activity that helps students retain new learning and integrate it with what they already know. If it is not possible to always provide concrete, first-hand experiences for the student, efforts must always be exerted so that the student will be able to understand the concept in a clear and concrete way.”

With educational VR, it will always be possible to provide concrete first-hand experiences. While the current cost of adoption is too high for VR to reach under-funded schools, it will eventually decrease, as is almost always the case with new technologies. In the time that it takes, I’d bet the world becomes a fully connected place.
The internet democratized knowledge, VR will democratize experiences. It will continue to shrink an increasingly globalized world and facilitate better communication and collaboration across physical spaces. It will be the next innovation in the transmission of knowledge that not only shapes how we learn, but how we conduct business and maintain relationships with our friends, family and like-minded people, wherever they may be.

How VR enhances communication and collaboration

Increasingly, the success of businesses hinges on their ability to communicate and collaborate.
VR is the perfect medium for achieving these ends. Because VR will become a more and more integral part of the business world, the earlier students are exposed to non-gaming uses of VR, the more prepared they will be to interact in the virtual work spaces of tomorrow.
Some students learn best by hearing, others by seeing. With VR, you get the best of both. Educational visionaries that develop educational VR hardware and software are not just improving learning; they are rethinking it altogether.
One of the features that distinguishes the aforementioned zSpace 200 from other VR educational technologies is that students can easily collaborate and speak with one another while using their VR computer.
“The most profound thing I’ve ever heard a teacher say is that many technologies build a barrier between us and the kids but this seems not to,” said Chavez.

Far too often, VR is mistaken to be a solitary, lonely experience.

But even VR platforms that place the user in virtual worlds are not necessarily isolating experiences. Immersive VR Education, a developer headquartered in Ireland, has created a social learning platform called Engage. Engage gives educators the tools to create their own lessons and immersive experiences, all without needing to commit a line of code. Inside these immersive lessons, teachers and students can connect and use collaborative tools like an interactive whiteboard.
“In virtual reality when the avatar is two feet away from you, it really feels like they are two feet away from you,” said David Whelan, CEO of Immersive VR Education.
Whether inside the Coliseum or a hospital ER room, Engage allows educators to transport their classroom to wherever it is most relevant to the students.
“People learn best through experiences or doing tasks themselves. So if you are teaching, say, Aircraft maintenance and you are working on a Boeing engine. [In VR] You can bring in an engine, you can bring in parts, and have 4 or 5 students come in and collaborate in the virtual space. You [the educator] can say, ‘Alright guys you have 45 minutes to put this engine together and the students can lift parts that may weigh 4 or 5 tons, and manipulate them quite easily,” said Whelan.
For now, apps like this are primarily designed to shift how students and teachers interact in today’s learning spaces. In the future, educational work spaces such as Engage lecture halls will double as business boardrooms or co-working spaces for creative problem-solving.
Far too often, VR is mistaken to be a solitary, lonely experience — as a technology for play that enables escapists to further isolate themselves in a digitally created world. But this could not be further from the truth. Indeed, Facebook has invested so heavily into VR because their company’s vision is to connect the world.
“This is really a new communication platform,” said Zuckerberg after acquiring Oculus. “By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

The challenges facing educational VR in the U.S.

Much of the material VR companies are innovating for classes will not be purchased for personal use but by school districts, colleges and universities. The price for the hardware and software will not be cheap. For example, the Oculus Rift retails for $599.99 at Best Buy. Persuading these constituents to adopt VR/AR will be a challenge.
Marketing will be critical for getting constituents to adopt VR in schools and higher education. VR edtech companies will need to develop innovative marketing strategies that drive educational organizations to invest in VR. The impediments facing the adoption of VR edtech are similar to those VR faces in being adopted in other domains. Once parents see the upside of educational VR, they will become more comfortable with VR enhancing other forms of communication and its application in other work spaces.

VR educational companies will need to get creative not just when it comes to promoting VR to educators but also speaking with local and state politicians.

Convincing early adopters to buy into educational VR systems like zSpace and Immersive will be critical for its spread.
To give an example, one of zSpace’s biggest challenges is simply to get people to see it. Once young kids see it, they are enamored.
“I’ve seen a kid run out to the curb and yank his mom out of the car…and tell her ‘Mom, look at this! Look at what I did!’ It makes me want to tear up,” said Chavez.
“A lot people see VR as a gaming or entertainment peripheral, so the biggest challenge is getting educators who have been teaching lessons the same way for years and years to change their mindset,” said Whelan. “We have to convince them that it isn’t just a new way of providing the same old content, this a completely new way of teaching.”
Especially during this time when state legislatures are gutting educational budgets, VR educational companies will need to get creative not just when it comes to promoting VR to educators but also speaking with local and state politicians. This latter group must be persuaded that educational VR is worth the price. To persuade them, educational VR firms need to get in front of parents, students, teachers, administrators and political leaders. Educational VR innovators must convince them that the windfall warrants the upfront investment.

The next horizon in VR education

Where will educational VR head next? One possibility is that museums will begin to use 360-degree cameras and transform their collections and elaborate corridors into material that students all over the world can interact with by wearing an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Imagine a sixth-grade student in rural Arkansas putting on a VR headset in his social studies class. The teacher tells the class, “Today we are going to visit one of the greatest art collections in the world, the Louvre.” The app then transports the student to the gallery that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
What would normally cost several thousand dollars and constitute a luxury trip that most American students could only dream of can become an immersive, interactive component of the students’ curriculum.
These virtual spaces will consist of customized avatars that can express features ranging from happy to confused. It won’t be long before a fourth-grade class in Newark, New Jersey will be able to go on a virtual school trip to the British Museum with a class of fourth graders from Kyoto, Japan. While the kids are on the virtual school trip, their parents can attend to their VR business meetings.
You may think this sounds like sci-fi, but 10 years from now this futuristic school trip to the Louvre may seem like the Atari of VR.
“I’m old enough to remember when computers came into schools first in the late 80s and early 90s. They sat there for years gathering dust because teachers didn’t want to touch them,” said Whelan. “But just like computers, VR will creep its way into education. In fact, I believe it will be adopted much sooner because people my age are teachers and accustomed to the rapid change of technology.”
Whelan also points out that VR set-ups are actually much cheaper than early PCs.
“When PCs first came out they were two or three thousand dollars, now you can get a really decent VR headset connected to a PlayStation for under 800 dollars, and the technology is just going to become cheaper.”
VR will be the next link in the sequence that has witnessed the human urge to connect and enhance communication stretching back several thousand years. It is a reimagination of what education can become and it will prepare students for a connected future of democratized virtual experiences and global communication and collaboration.

National Video Games Day Comes to Life with the HoloLens

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National Video Games Day Comes to Life with the HoloLens

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By Kelly Cronin
In a wave of new technology updates, we have taken notice to a completely unique experience - mixed reality.  In a mixture of augmented and virtual reality, the Microsoft HoloLens brings holograms to life with complete interaction between our fingertips and 3D holographic objects.  One can only imagine the incredible uses for such a tool, but of course we all mostly just want to play with it.  National Video Games Day, on September 12th, is inspiring us to see how the HoloLens is transforming the video game world.  Check out some articles, photos, and videos below to see just how awesome the HoloLens truly is.

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Pokémon Go bringing attention to Microsoft’s HoloLens

The hype over Pokémon Go isn't solely because Team Mystic is the best, it's also because the augmented reality game is changing how we see video games interact with our real lives. Augmented reality is an incredible experience that moves gamers from sitting behind a screen all day to moving around inside, outside, and everywhere in between. The HoloLens is an augmented reality headset - putting the game inside your living room. Imagine catching a Pikachu without your phone in your hand. Epic.

Read the article here >>

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Students demonstrate their HoloLens apps after a quarter of VR and AR design

At the University of Washington, a computer science classroom is equipping their students with HoloLens headsets to let them develop their own apps. One app developed is called HoloScanner, which redesigns the process of scanning a room and turns it into a game that can then be used for other apps. Other apps include augmented reality cooking, a painting app, and more.

Check out the HoloScanner app video and more here>>

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Putting Video Games into your Living Space: Young Conker

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Managed Solution hosts HoloLens event, featuring custom made app

We are just as excited about the HoloLens as you are, so we're sharing the experience. Vice President of Marketing and Engagement, Jackie Weiner, developed a custom-made app for our HoloLens that has objects, games, and videos to interact with.  At our invite-only events, we host a friendly competition among CEO's and other C-Level executives.

Photos from the event are below, and you can check out the full press release here.

Want to get an invite to one of the coolest experiences around? Check out our events page to find an event near you. 

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“The app is awesome! The HoloLens is just fantastic. I was really impressed by the investment that was made into creating this app. The app just blew my mind, and it just shows you how much the HoloLens platform can offer developers."

- Ian Koskela, CIO CD Savoia

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Lenovo announces two Windows 10 desktop PCs ready for virtual reality

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By Mollie Ruiz-Hopper as written on news.microsoft.com
Today at gamescom, Lenovo unveiled two Windows 10 desktop PCs built for you to game and experience virtual reality anywhere you go: the IdeaCentre Y710 Cube and IdeaCentre AIO Y910.
While many gamers dedicate rooms for their battle stations, about half are playing beyond the confines of a desk. The minimalist designs of both PCs, combined with Windows 10, give you top-of-the-line performance virtually anywhere.

The IdeaCentre Y710 Cube with Windows 10

Ideal for gamers who want to stay competitive no matter where they play, the IdeaCentre Y710 Cube comes with a built-in carry handle for easy transport between gaming stations and a new, compact cube form factor weighing only 16 pounds.
The IdeaCentre Y710 Cube allows you to handle 4K gaming, VR and high-quality streaming with massive computing capabilities in real time, as well as multitask between editing a spreadsheet and streaming a movie. With Windows 10 and the Xbox app, you can stream Xbox games from your Xbox One to your Windows 10 PC. For even more control in your favorite games, the Cube also comes with the option of an integrated Xbox One Wireless receiver, including an Xbox One wireless controller.
Other features include:
  • Powered by Windows 10
  • Integrated Xbox One Wireless receiver supports up to eight Xbox One controllers simultaneously
  • Up to NVIDIA’s latest GeForce GTX 1080 graphics
  • Up to 6thGen Intel Core i7 processor
  • KillerDoubleShot Pro Wi-Fi reduces in-game lag
  • Up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM
  • Up to 2TB HDD (hard disk drive) or up to 256GB SSD (solid state drive) storage
  • Available with option to bundle with Lenovo YSeries Gaming Mechanical Keyboard and Precision Mouse
Price and Availability:  The VR-ready IdeaCentre Y710 Cube with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 starts at $1,299.99, available starting in October 2016.1 For more information, visit Lenovo.com.

The IdeaCentre AIO Y910 with Windows 10

The slim, compact, VR-ready IdeaCentre AIO Y910 gives you the most powerful gaming experiences in a size that fits nearly any battle station. Built entirely within a 27-inch Quad High Definition (2560×1440) borderless display, it cuts down on the clutter of hardware and cables, without cutting down on game performance.
As both a VR-ready PC and a high-end desktop, it offers all the features you need as a great personal gaming powerhouse, family PC or entertainment center. With Windows 10 and the Xbox app, you can stream Xbox games from your Xbox One to your PC and also have access to the productivity apps of Microsoft, such as Microsoft Word, Outlook and more.
Other features include:
  • Powered by Windows 10
  • Easily detachableback panel allows for one-step access to the AIO’s core components
  • Ultra-thin display featuring 144Hz refresh rate and 5ms response time
  • Impeccable sound with Twin 5W HarmanKardon stereo speakers
  • KillerDoubleShot Pro Wi-Fi reduces in-game lag
  • Up to NVIDIA’s latest GeForce GTX 1080 or AMDRadeon RX 460 graphics
  • Up to 6thGen Intel Core i7 processor
  • Up to 32GB DDR4 RAM
  • Up to 2TB HDD or up to 256GB SSD
Price and Availability:  The VR-ready IdeaCentre AIO Y910 with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 starts at $1,799.99, available starting in October 2016.1 For more information, visit Lenovo.com.
Lenovo’s newest gaming desktop designs, the IdeaCentre Y710 Cube and the IdeaCentre AIO Y910, together with Windows 10, are perfect for exploring virtual reality anywhere you go. Exact specifications, prices, and availability will vary by region. Visit Lenovo.com to learn more about today’s news!

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All Windows 10 PCs will get Windows Holographic access next year

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All Windows 10 PCs will get Windows Holographic access next year

By Darrell Etherington as written on techcrunch.com
Windows 10 users will be able to dive into mixed reality starting next year, with an update planned that can let any “mainstream” Windows 10 PC run the Windows Holographic shell the company first revealed in January 2015.
The update will allow users to multi-task in mixed reality environments, which combine traditional 2D Windows 10 apps with immersive, 3D graphical environments. These will be enabled via a range of “6 degrees of freedom devices,” input devices that add positional tracking to other more traditional forms of input, like clicking and pointing.
The Windows team is trying to make this more broadly available, too, thanks to support for a range of Windows 10 PCs that don’t necessarily need the specs required to run full-scale VR today. As an example, Microsoft presented a video of Windows 10 Holographic running at 90 FPS on an Intel NUC, a tiny desktop PC that’s not super expensive and included integrated Intel graphics.
While it’s still unlikely that we’ll all be doing our average desk workflow of spreadsheets and slide presentation in mixed reality any time soon, it’s good to see Microsoft set a timeline for public availability of a feature which, at launch, seems like it had the potential to become vaporware rather than a shipping product.
Intel and Microsoft are also building a specification for mixed reality PCs, as well as head-mounted displays that let users experience the mixed reality operating environment. The public release of the spec is planned for an upcoming Windows hardware develop conference in Shenzhen this December.

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