Over the last week we have been working on something quite exciting. At BuyingButler and RightIndem we pride ourselves on being a very technology focused company, and we love looking to see where we can use the latest technology to solve real problems. We have been doing just that with Microsoft new HoloLens Mixed Reality headset.

On Thursday 12th Jan 2017 we had a good friend and fellow Pluralsight author Lars Klint fly over to the UK for the NDC London conference. Before the conference he came up to Nottingham  for a couple of days to work with us around some use cases for the Hololens for RightIndem. I can’t discuss what those use cases are at the moment openly, but they are quite exciting and complement one of our project modules nicely.

If you would like Lars to run a workshop for your company, you can see the details on his workshops page. I highly recommend him for the Hololens workshop or his Winning at Life workshop.

First though, what is the HoloLens. Below is the brief description taken from the HoloLens website.

Microsoft HoloLens is the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.

When wearing the headset, you still have an unrestricted view of your surroundings, but you also see holograms that are placed in the room that you can only see with the HoloLens attached. These holograms are aware of their surroundings and can be placed on walls and tables. This is achieved by the HoloLens doing spatial mapping of the environment around it. You can then interact with these holograms directly whilst walking around your environment.

The HoloLens is a Windows 10 device which is untethered, which means you do not need a cable running between the headset and a powerful computer like you do with a Virtual Reality headset like the Oculus Rift.

Lars Klint Demonstrating the HoloLens
Lars Klint Demonstrating the HoloLens

With Lars visiting our offices we had 2 goals to achieve over 2 days. On the first day Lars facilitated a brain storming session with myself and the rest of the companies management team. We already had some ideas of where the HoloLens could be applied, but the purpose of this session was to work through different ideas and walk away with a rough plan for a series of minimum viable products we could build. This session went very well, and everyone involved had the opportunity to try the HoloLens for a good amount of time. This was important as people need to understand what the experience feels like in order to understand the constraints posed. Off the back of the session we have an idea for 2 technical spikes we want to try and a prototype product to build with it. The cool thing is, we already have a company we are talking too about partnering with us to deliver a HoloLens solution.

The Buying Butler and RightIndem Teams Learning How to Build HoloLens Applications
The Buying Butler and RightIndem Teams Learning How to Build HoloLens Applications

The 2nd day that Lars was with us was about running a workshop with my development teams and designers so that they could start getting a feel for how to develop software for the HoloLens. My developers have been looking forward to this day for a long time since we arranged the workshop back in August / September last year. It was important to have my UI / UX designers there because this is a completely different paradigm to start thinking about when it comes to delivering usable experiences. I think it gave them lots of things to think about.

Developing for the HoloLens is actually really good fun. The apps themselves are Windows 10 Universal Windows Platform applications, but the bulk of your development work is done in the Unity3D games development environment. This involves placing 3D objects in a view and assigning behaviours to them that are C# scripts. We were all pleasantly surprised to see that developing software at a code level was actually quite straightforward.  The workshop Lars went through had the guys creating a simple game where you can shoot balls from your view using the pinch gesture. These balls would then knock over boxes that had a full physics simulation associated with them, so they had mass and were affected by gravity.

Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft HoloLens

Everyone came away from the workshop  with good knowledge on developing software on this device. The next steps for us are to start looking at use cases for the MVP we finalised the day before. This is still quite early for us in this area. We still need to really get to understand what is possible and allow the developers to gain experience on the platform. Our next step is to organise a series of internal hackathon events for our developers to try building something. We will go the hackathon route as there is still a lot to discover and I really want my teams to be able innovate, so hackathons allow them to do this without the constraints of program level deadlines.

I am really glad we have been able to do this as it feeds into my vision for a development team that has lots of opportunity to grow and build great solutions. I don’t intend this to be the last time we do something like this as it was really a lot of fun and there are business benefits off the back of it, both in terms of products and also creating a motivated workforce.

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