The two companies have been collaborating since 2018 to create a “moving platform” mode that will enable HoloLens 2 to be used on the road. Despite the fact that HoloLens technology has previously been made for use in more extreme environments, getting it to work in a moving vehicle was a challenge. The headset’s visible light cameras and inertial measurement unit (IMU) were originally designed to imitate the way a human would experience the surrounding environment, which ironically resulted in a motion sickness-like reaction when the setting around the headset began moving. Microsoft was required to design an algorithm that would resolve the sensors’ discrepancies (the origin of the “motion sickness”).
Microsoft tested its first prototype using boats on Puget Sound. Then the company brought Hololens 2 to Volkswagen, which bidirectionally connected the headset with a vehicle in order to display real-time information from the vehicle itself. Microsoft says the moving platform’s added capabilities might help “[train] drivers to handle challenging road conditions, for example, or [create] new user experiences for autonomous vehicles.”
Volkswagen is no stranger to AR. The German automaker announced in late 2020 that it would integrate an AR head-up display in its all-electric ID.3 and ID.4 models, superimposing the vehicle’s speed, navigation, lane assist, and other information onto the windshield. Some who have tested Volkswagen’s head-up technology have said the navigation information specifically appears to be cast 10 meters ahead, while information that would typically be displayed on a dashboard appears much closer. It’s hard to say whether HoloLens 2 will improve this experience; on the one hand, Hololens appears capable of providing far more information than Volkswagen’s head-up display, while on the other, the user is required to wear a bulky headset in order to use Hololens at all.
“We think of this as moving toward a mobility system where different products and mobility solutions will be connected,” Dr. Andro Kleen, head of the data science team at Volkswagen Group Innovation, said in Microsoft’s statement. “The basic assumption is that this technology will become lighter and smaller, and we think that as that happens, more people will get their hands on it and integrate it into their daily lives—and thus into their way of moving from A to B.”
HoloLens 2 was also initially intended for enterprise customers, not your everyday driver, due to both its specs and its $3,500 price tag. But Microsoft bungled its last HoloLens deal so badly that it makes sense the company is more open now to alternative uses. After all, just because an AR headset isn’t fit for combat doesn’t mean it won’t work for a joyride.