Just in time for the spring home improvement season, Microsoft has partnered with Lowe's to help the hardware store chain's customers use HoloLens to visualize their remodeling jobs.
This month, in the greater Seattle area, Lowe's is piloting a kitchen remodeling demonstration using HoloLens, Microsoft's augmented-reality headset. Lowe's intends to follow up with another in-store pilot near its headquarters in Raleigh, N. C.
Unlike Oculus, PlayStation VR and other virtual-reality headsets that recreate complete 3D environments on head-mounted displays that largely block out the outside world, the Windows 10-powered device overlays 3D "holograms" over physical environments using a transparent visor. Early Development Edition versions of the headset, costing $3,000 a piece, start shipping on March 30.
In yet another show of the device's versatility, Microsoft and Lowe's will make the case for HoloLens' role in home renovations.
The experience begins when customers step into a nearly empty showroom kitchen. Using Hololens, they can arrange appliances and cabinets, explore different looks and mix their virtual creations with real-world furnishings for an immersive representation of their designs. Store employees and companions can view changes in real time using a connected Surface tablet.
"Now people can view, in life-like realism, large items like cabinets, appliances and countertops in size and scale with incredibly high-definition options and detailed finishes," blogged Scott Erickson, general manager of Microsoft HoloLens. "The holographic details are rich and allow users to even see the differences between shiny chrome appliances versus matte brushed aluminum options."
Though HoloLens may help homeowners visualize their home improvement projects, the technology can also benefit Lowe's, said Erickson. For the retailer, digitally refreshing fixtures, appliances and finishes is faster and less costly than managing and moving physical samples.
Eventually, Microsoft hopes HoloLens makes its way into homes.
Erickson said Microsoft envisions holograms replacing cardboard cutouts, masking tape and paint swatches as homeowners plan their renovations or furniture purchases. With HoloLens, users can see the impact of their desired changes on their physical surroundings in the proper size and scale.
Microsoft isn't the only technology company betting on augmented reality.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Intel is building an augmented-reality headset based on the chip maker's RealSense technology. RealSense uses an HD camera, an infrared camera and an infrared laser projector to sense objects in 3D space. The technology is commercially available in select PCs that support Windows Hello, a Windows 10 biometric security feature that allows users to sign into their systems with their faces.
Meanwhile, software maker PTC is working to help popularize augmented-reality technology solutions in the enterprise.
Last year, PTC snapped up Vuforia and its augmented-reality platform for $65 million. The technology is used by 200,000 developers who have built thousands of mobile apps and digital eyewear. The firm also has teamed up with Schneider Electric, a maker of data center power management equipment; Samsung; and motorcycle maker KTM, which plans to use PTC's software to slash repair times and costs.