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Microsoft Targets Local Businesses with Mixed Reality Headset

Rita Briody, of Erie Insurance, uses Microsoft's HoloLens at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.
Rita Briody, of Erie Insurance, uses Microsoft's HoloLens at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

Microsoft is leaning its new augmented reality headset, which gives users a high definition visual experience, toward local businesses.

The company showcased HoloLens on Wednesday at the Frontiers in Optics Conference and Exhibition inside the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

The wearable headset is a battery-operated computer which runs Windows 10 software. It has built-in sensors, allowing the user to view the displayed three-dimensional holograms and their surrounding reality at the same time. Microsoft calls it a mixed reality.

Bernard Kress, of Microsoft, spent the afternoon showing onlookers – mostly optical engineers – how their hand gestures can move the hologram images around while wearing the device.

“It allows you to interact with reality in a completely free way. You can take it outside, walk down the street, although we prefer you use it within a building,” said Kress.

A 3D teleportation function of HoloLens allows for new social interactions.

“You might be able to interact with your friends who are in Europe or Asia, around the same table as if they are here, but actually they are not,” said Kress.

At $3,000, HoloLens is expensive and not yet targeted toward consumers. Once the headset becomes available, Kress said it’s expected to bring gaming and entertainment to new levels. 

Bernard Kress (left), of Microsoft, helps a user with HoloLens.
Bernard Kress (left), of Microsoft, helps a user with HoloLens.

The device, however, has been gaining traction from the medical and education industries. Companies like Boeing and Airbus are using HoloLens to improve the productivity of their engineers.

Rita Briody, an IT specialist at Erie Insurance in Rochester, said she knew the company was forward-thinking when it implemented Google Glass years ago. The virtual reality eyeglasses helped insurance risk adjusters complete tasks hands-free, save travel time and cut costs.

Erie is currently testing HoloLens as part of a training program. With two devices on board, the company has set up a virtual house that can be demolished for home insurance training purposes.

“What we’re going to do is recreate the kitchen, bathroom and living room and use the technology in the HoloLens so that we don’t have to actually make a fire every time or flood the place every time,” said Briody.

Critics of HoloLens have said it is an important device, but has several limitations, including its high price tag. It also has a narrow field of view and can’t be used outside in bright light.

Business customers can order HoloLens development kits on Microsoft’s website

Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News in 2015 as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York and also does general assignment reporting. Sasha-Ann is the host of Arts InFocus, WXXI-TV's weekly arts and culture program. She is also a fill-in host and regular contributor to Need To Know.