From Hololens to Mesh, Microsoft has been preparing its entry into the metaverse for years

Released in 2016, Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality glasses have come a long way in 6 years. After working with the US military, canceling multiple headset-related projects, and downsizing in 2022, Microsoft is still heading into the metaverse. of Wall Street Journal returned, this Wednesday, October 26, to the Hololens originally intended for video games.

From video games to the military to end up in the metaverse

It all started in the late 2010s, when Microsoft, which then marketed the Xbox 360 S, recruited a team to think about what next-generation games might look like. The service imagines ” ScreenZero a product idea that would replace all screens with augmented reality headsets, according to a statement from a former Microsoft engineer.

In the same year, Microsoft officially built a prototype headset connected to a computer via a large cable. During the first demonstration, people, mesmerized by this new technology, could see hundreds of geometric shapes moving virtually in front of them. After several demonstrations, the cubes and rectangles became dolphins.

Since the alpha prototype, the Brazilian engineer in charge of the project, Alep Kipman, has worked hard to motivate his teams to add new technologies to the helmet and free it from its cable. According to statements from the teams, many designs were imagined and big mistakes were made due to the difficulty of integrating so many technologies into such a small element.

In January 2015, during a press event for journalists and companies, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella unveiled Hololens in a video aimed at professionals. Leader shows a future where users can collaborate to build projects, but also interact with virtual dogs. Later, during the Xbox conference at E3, the biggest video game event of the year, Microsoft showed, through the game Minecraft, bought for 2.5 billion dollars in 2014, how players will be immersed in the game through their augmented reality headsets .

The Hololens were released on March 30, 2016 for $3,000. The product being too expensive for most consumers, Microsoft formed task forces to reject its offerings for businesses. After several introductions, the new technology giant will enter into a collaboration with NASA to allow employees to look at the surface of Mars.

Some time after the first sales, some problems appeared on the Hololens: the light scratched the sensors; the hands were very faintly detected. Former employees said Microsoft sometimes lied during demonstrations. Users thought they were looking at a perfect live scan of a part through the headset, when in reality they were seeing a digital rendering done much earlier.

Different companies, all, have tested the experience of Hololens in their daily life. Japan Airlines has tried to train its crews and their engine mechanics. Automaker Mercedes Benz has used the device to help mechanics carry out complex repairs. Employees can call their boss remotely to bring up the steps to follow directly in augmented reality.

The Hololens 2 was supposed to fix the problems of its predecessor

During these final tests, the Hololens 2 are already in development. One of the objectives of the second generation is to expand the field of view and improve the user experience. However, Microsoft’s budget constraints will force the teams, originally formed for video games, to move first to Windows, then to the cloud. Lacking a vision for the future, the project leaders began to lose hope.

In 2018, Microsoft signed an agreement with the US military that could go up to 21.88 billion dollars. In detail, the American company would deliver 100,000 Hololens 2 for $479 million to help soldiers train and interact on the battlefield. To succeed in its mission, the Redmond-based company had to integrate even more technology than in its first helmet, such as cameras, military-grade detectors, radios, night vision.

US Army.

US military equipped with Hololens. Photo: US Army

The first tests turned out to be a real fiasco. During combat training, the headset kept disconnecting from local wireless networks. They disabled the weapons trackers so the soldiers couldn’t practice. According to service members and former employees, the helmets were heavy, tiring and uncomfortable. In 2021, the military stopped its tests for 1 year, in order for Microsoft to meet all the required criteria. The military, seeing little change since 2018, canceled the deal in October 2021. A year later, Brigadier General Christophe Schneider claimed the military had recently completed successful testing for the first $479 million contract. dollars, but soldiers’ statements report feelings of nausea when using headphones.

Hololens 3 and a helmet for the general public will never see the light of day

During this military episode, Microsoft had planned to update the Hololens 2, released in 2019 for $3,500, and release an affordable headset for the general public. But since the beginning of the year, the two projects, including the Hololens 3 for professionals, have been shelved, according to employees. 300,000 sales of the device since 2016 according to a report by International Data Corp, have forced Microsoft to cut budget and headcount. Former employees complained that the staff was so thin that they were constantly overwhelmed with work and no longer understood their true mission. In June 2022, Microsoft announced the departure of Alep Kipman, who had led the HoloLens team from the beginning. The tech giant said it had conducted investigations into the engineer’s work conduct, including his management style.

Today, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft has become interested in the metaverse. During a conference last July, the leader stated that the company was approaching a “software approach” to this new universe. In 2021, it announced developments to its business tools such as Microsoft Teams Mesh, which would make it possible to work in 3D virtual spaces. To begin its expansion, Microsoft has partnered with parent company Facebook during Meta Connect, this October 2022. The work package, Office 365, will be integrated inside the Quest virtual reality headset. It remains to be seen whether the company’s strategy for the development of augmented reality headsets is finally buried or will return in case of democratization of the object.

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