Microsoft's HoloLens adds virtual life to Raspberry Pi 2 gadgets, robots

Microsoft says HoloLens could help makers simulate Raspberry Pi 2 robots or gadgets in real-life environments

Microsoft's B15 holographic robot screen capture

Microsoft's B15 holographic robot screen capture

Microsoft says its HoloLens head-mounted computer can bring robots and gadgets based on Raspberry Pi 2 to life as they are being developed.

HoloLens is an augmented-reality headset that lets users interact with 3D objects that show up as floating images, much like holographic projections. By blending computer-generated images with a user's view of the real world, Microsoft wants to change the way we interact with the environment.

Microsoft also believes HoloLens can bring a new level of interactivity to enthusiasts making gadgets, robots or appliances using developer boards like the US$35 Raspberry Pi 2. The HoloLens could help makers envision how a gadget would look or how a robot would behave.

HoloLens could also change the way makers test products with boards like Raspberry Pi 2. With it, developers could gather sensor data and virtually control gadgets and robots in real time, which is a critical part of testing and prototyping before a final product is released.

HoloLens could change the way physical things are developed, especially for makers, who'll get to see firsthand what they are developing, said Alex Kipman , technology fellow in the operating systems group at Microsoft, during a speech at the Build conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

In an on-stage demonstration at Build, HoloLens overlaid a holographic robot named B15 on top of a physical one made using Raspberry Pi 2. The HoloLens also displayed a control panel showing how far the robot traveled, its remaining battery life and wireless connection, its temperature and other variables. HoloLens was able to pull the data from the robot in real time, and users could control the robot through a holographic interface by waving their hands.

Another HoloLens feature is the ability to recognize objects and environments. The HoloLens demonstrated at Build could scan points in 3D space and visualize the robot's movement path, which helped it pass navigation commands to B15. That was particularly helpful as the robot didn't have the sensors to understand the room's environment. Boards like Raspberry Pi 2 don't have weather, light or movement sensors built in, but they can be added through expansion ports.

As environments change and there are unforeseen obstacles, HoloLens could help robots immediately change path. That is important when working with bigger robots in the automotive field and other areas, according to Microsoft.

HoloLens already runs Windows 10, and the developer board would need to support that OS. Raspberry Pi 2, Intel's Galileo and Microsoft's Sharks Cove are among the few that will run Windows 10.

Every Windows 10 device has APIs for developers to work with sensors, Microsoft says. The company has been incorporating a universal sensor driver set so Windows 10 can exploit a slew of environmental, biometric, proximity and motion sensors on devices.

The holographic robot, control panel and robot movement path overlays demonstrated were Windows 10 applications and part of the Windows Holographic developer platform. Hardware hackers are known for tweaking circuit boards, not writing applications, so they may need to pick up some more software development skills.

Microsoft hasn't announced the shipment date or price for HoloLens.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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Agam Shah

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