Microsoft unveils HoloLens 2 headsets, software, revives Kinect

The augmented reality headset is priced at $3,500, while the Azure Kinect developer kits will run $399.
By Dave Muoio
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In a stage event kicking off Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft pulled back the curtain on revamped versions of its enterprise-focused mixed reality headset and computer vision technology.

Much like its predecessor, the HoloLens 2 headset is a self-contained device that projects messages, icons and other images on a clear glasses-like display. However, the second version of the headset has more than double the field of view of the original, along with new depth sensors that enable direct manipulation of projected holograms, and eye-tracking technology that can be used for display interactions as well as iris-based user authentication. In terms of form, the HoloLens two is made of lighter material, is glasses friendly and allows users to easily flip up the visor when necessary, according to the company.

Microsoft said it will be supporting the headset with new software and services as well. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Guides, for instance, is a new app interface designed to onboard users and provide them with step-by-step instructions for tasks they might be assigned. Already available in preview, the app’s accompanying PC version also allows users to create new guides or customize other interactive content by importing 3D models, videos and photos alongside their instructions. Meanwhile, the Azure Spatial Anchors tool allows developers to designate real-world points of interest that are accessible across HoloLens and other devices, as the Azure Remote Rendering service helps display 3D models without a loss of detail.

Also making a comeback is Microsoft’s Kinect, an artificial intelligence-supported camera originally marketed as a video game peripheral and shut down in 2017. Now dubbed the Azure Kinect Developer Kit, the technology includes a high-definition RGB camera, a seven-microphone circular array and the same time-of-flight depth sensor included within the HoloLens 2.

The HoloLens 2 will be made available before the end of the year, and is up for preorder at a $3,500 price point with additional software bundles also available. The Azure Kinect Developer Kit can also be preordered for $399.

Why it matters

Microsoft may have initially envisioned its mixed reality headsets and computer vision cameras as products for the masses, but each technology’s initial run found the most traction among homebrew developers and enterprises — and healthcare was no exception. A second run of Microsoft’s offerings that are built from the ground up with these users in mind could open the door for more providers and startups looking to integrate the cutting-edge technology.

What’s the trend

There’s little limit to the healthcare-focused apps created for HoloLens. The last year alone has seen tools focused on 3D holographic visualizations of heart scarring for heart procedures, a pre-operative surgical planning system for surgeons and radiologists and access to notes and test results during an operation.

And while Microsoft’s own announcement of the Azure Kinect Developer Kit included a shoutout to a fall detection implementation built by Ocuvera for hospitals, others like Reflexion Health and MIRA Rehab each built their digital platforms on the back of Microsoft’s original camera.

On the record

“It was just four years ago that we introduced HoloLens, ushering in a new era of mixed reality seamlessly bridging the physical and the digital worlds. One of my favorite lines from our announcement that we used to describe the possibilities was, when you change the way you see the world you change the world you see,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during the announcement event. “And it's incredible to see how people have applied those advances to do just that, transforming how medical students learn, preserving ancient historical landmarks and cultures and providing that heads-up, hands-free assistance to firstline workers everywhere. This new medium is just the beginning of experiencing what's possible when you connect the digital world with the physical world to transform how we work, learn and play.

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