July is Microsoft’s //oneweek celebration, when the full-time employees spend a week hacking apps that they would like to work on. I could not pass this opportunity, and decided to learn something that I have always been curious about: augmented reality and Microsoft HoloLens programming.
What is augmented reality? What are holograms?
Your geek self may remember the famous holodeck on board the starship Enterprise – a place of entertainment, where the ship’s crew could walk in and transfer themselves into a different world. Surprisingly, holodeck is more of a virtual reality application than augmented reality. On holodeck, the entire room you are present in can be changed into the Victorian-style room on 221B Baker Street, for example.
Virtual reality makes sense. What about augmented reality? Imagine you sit in your living room wearing the HoloLens. Suddenly you hear a knock on your door, you stand up to open the door, and to your astonishment, a real Sherlock Holmes walks inside your house. Wow! This is the magic of augmented reality – while being present in the world you are used to, you can see it being transformed by presences you never thought possible. Who knows, maybe next time you wear an augmented reality device you will see Dobby the Elf jump back and forth on your dining table?
What is HoloLens?
What is exactly HoloLens? It is a device you wear on your head that allows you to see the real world around you with holograms projected on top of it. You can interact with holograms with your hand by tapping or dragging the holograms around. The device also creates spatial mapping of your room, so characters like Dobby know where the table is in your room before they can jump on it. You can imagine that holograms interacting with the real furniture in your room are a lot more realistic than ones floating in the air. Check out this video to see for yourself:
How can I get started programming HoloLens?
The HoloLens device costs a hefty $3000, thus it is currently not affordable to more general public. However, the HoloLens team has graciously developed an emulator for HoloLens that you can install on your machine. An emulator is a program that mimics the behavior of the device and has most of the same functionality, minus the coolness factor. You can deploy the code you create for HoloLens on an emulator and it will behave the same, minus the coolness factor of wearing a device.
In addition to the emulator, you will need to install Visual Studio 2015 V1+ together with the Universal Windows App Development Tools. And the final (my most favorite) piece of the puzzle to top off your development setup is Unity HoloLens Technical Preview. Unity is an awesome video game framework, and is easy and fun to learn, especially if you enjoy building video games.
A final note on installation is that you have to have Hyper-V hypervisor aka virtual machine creator enabled on your installation of Windows 10. For more installation details, I highly recommend to read this installation guide.
In the next post I plan to talk more about what my experiences have been so far developing on HoloLens emulator and what kind of interactions the augmented reality allows you to create. Have a great week, and be CodeBrave!