Technophiles the world over are buzzing about Microsoft’s announcement of the HoloLens product. This holographic augmented reality platform is bubbling with cool factor, but could have a significant impact on engineering and manufacturing software. Although there is no official release date for the product yet, we can expect CAD and PLM vendors will be working hard to capitalize on this opportunity to offer new interfaces for design and product-centric tools. Let’s take a look at what Microsoft announced, and what the implications could be for engineering.
What did Microsoft announce? Per the HoloLens website’s FAQs, “HoloLens is the first holographic computer running Windows 10” although this doesn’t quite sum it up. It appears that HoloLens is a hardware and operating system platform that is still under development, but that Microsoft is announcing it now to attract an ecosystem of developers willing to create applications for HoloLens. According to Microsoft, HoloLens includes a holographic display, 3D sound, voice recognition, and gesture-based controls. It almost seems like the convergence of Cortana (voice control), Kinect (gesture-control), and new technology that’s been waiting in the wings (holographic displays). What could this mean for engineering and manufacturing though?
There are certainly a number of areas where HoloLens could improve the current state of engineering tools. Here are a few possibilities:
- More natural interfaces – Today’s CAD systems like AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Pro/Engineer, CATIA, and Inventor use a number of analogies for letting users access the myriad of functions available in the system, including terms like “toolbox” and “workbench”. Imagine how accessible 3D design tools would be to consumers if the CAD interface were literally a toolbox (see image at right).
- Enhanced collaboration on virtual models – Redlining and markup tools have gone on quite a journey in the last 20 years from their start as an electronic red pen to CAD-embedded screen-sharing apps. Imagine being able to be able to virtually touch and markup a virtual mockup in real-time with colleagues whose avatars are present in the same virtual space.
- Physical in-context design tools – Imagine being able to design new components of a product in the physical context of the existing product. The image below (taken from Microsoft’s promotion video for HoloLens) is a great example of this – adding a new gas tank design to a physical mock-up of a motorcycle.
The implications of HoloLens to the manufacturing world are just as interesting. Consider these applications:
- Inferred 3D search context – Some of today’s most advanced PLM systems allow users to navigate on the 3D location of components. Bounding box searches and proximity searches make it easier to find components in complex large designs like airplanes and buildings. What if the PLM system could infer a user’s search context based on the 3D area where their attention is focused in HoloLens (e.g. only avionics components are returned in search results because I am inside the virtual cockpit looking forward at the controls).
- Enhanced real-time inspection – Assuming HoloLens would have sufficient fidelity, imaging overlaying a 3D design onto a physical part to optimize part inspection. Inspectors could quickly see mismatches and highlight non-conformances in a 3D markup.
- More effective work instructions – Today’s best technical illustration tools (like 3DVIA Composer) enable video (4D) work instructions to show users how work should be performed. As realistic as these work instructions can look, holographic in-context instructions would likely be better. The image below shows how a young lady is instructed to locate and tighten a plumbing trap onto a sink.
Who knows how HoloLens will change the world of engineering and manufacturing software? Regardless of what those changes are, it looks like it will be fun to see what Microsoft HoloLens can bring to human-machine interfaces. Please leave a comment below with your ideas of what can be done in engineering and manufacturing with HoloLens. And as always, feel free to contact us with specific questions.