The latest from Microsoft Build conference: bringing the magic of ‘mixed reality’ to the world

Tech giant says Windows 10 is the only operating system specifically built for mixed reality devices, which it believes are the future of computing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2017, 5:40pm

Microsoft has debuted hardware for reaching into virtual worlds powered by its technology as it looks to “mixed reality” as the next big computing platform.

An update coming to the Windows 10 operating system later this year will “see the magic of mixed reality brought to consumers around the world,” according to Microsoft executive vice president Terry Myerson at the company’s annual Build developers conference in Seattle, Washington.

Mixed reality motion controllers paired with headsets made by Microsoft partners using Windows software allow users to interact with virtual and augmented reality.

“Mixed reality is the future of computing,” says Microsoft’s Alex Kipman, the software engineer behind HoloLens augmented reality gear.

“Windows 10 is the only operating system created specifically for mixed reality devices.”

Microsoft says Windows 10 on 500 million devices, short of one billion goal for 2018

Microsoft slipped when emphasis shifted to mobile devices, a market dominated by smartphones powered by Apple or Android software, but is gaining ground in the budding trend of augmented and virtual realities, says Gartner analyst Van Baker.

“In some ways Microsoft is catching up, and in other ways it is out ahead,” says Baker.

HoloLens augmented reality gear has been in the hands of developers for about a year, but Microsoft has yet to put it on the market. Partners, however, have built the company’s mixed reality technology into virtual reality headsets. Microsoft has also collaborated with agencies and companies to put augmented reality to use in factories, medical schools, and elsewhere.

While virtual reality devices such as those from Facebook-owned Oculus and Sony’s PlayStation VR headset immerse users in fantasy worlds, HoloLens and similar gadgetry “augment” reality by overlaying holograms on the real world in view.

Microsoft set to launch HoloLens mixed reality headset in China

With its latest devices, Microsoft is betting that both of these technologies will catch on, and is developing the hardware and software for the platforms.

Also at Build were members of performing arts troupe Cirque du Soleil who showed how they plan to use HoloLens to design stages, settings and performances with augmented reality.

HoloLens has been used by Nasa to simulate walking on Mars, and by an airline in Japan to train aircraft mechanics without having to take real jets out of commission.

Tens of thousands of developers in cities around the world have been dabbling with HoloLens, and it will be available for software makers to try in China by the end of May, according to Kipman.

“I just love that across the globe inspirational mixed-reality hackathons have been taking place,” says Kipman.

Mixed reality controllers unveiled by Kipman will let people reach into augmented or virtual worlds, with internal sensors tracking hand movements.

Microsoft had previously limited HoloLens control to preset gestures, such as pinching fingers together, to interact with virtual settings.

Acer will sell a Windows Mixed Reality headset and motion controller bundle priced atUS$399 during the holiday season at the end of this year, according to Microsoft.