Microsoft, Autodesk Team Up for HoloLens Product Design

By combining Microsoft's augmented-reality headset with Autodesk's software, the companies hope to speed up product design and prototyping.

Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft and Autodesk, known for its computer-aided design (CAD) technology, are teaming up to help turn HoloLens into a part of the modern product designer's technology toolkit.

"We are happy to announce that Microsoft HoloLens is partnering with Autodesk Fusion 360 on a solution that we believe could change the way industrial designers, mechanical engineers and other product development fields work together," wrote Ben Sugden, studio manager for Microsoft HoloLens, in a company blog post. "Fusion 360 is the ultimate cloud-based 3D design collaboration tool for product designers and engineers."

Autodesk Fusion 360 is a cloud-based platform that integrates computer-aided design, computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and collaboration into a single toolset. Sugden described the offering as a "natural partner for HoloLens—which we think is the best 3D content visualizer on the planet."

Powered by Windows 10, HoloLens is Microsoft's stab at extending its software ecosystem into the burgeoning field of virtual and augmented reality. A self-contained headset senses the world around the user and overlays 3D images in real-time.

During Microsoft's Windows 10 hardware event on Oct. 6, the company announced that the HoloLens Development Edition will begin shipping during the first quarter of 2016 in the United States and Canada with a price tag of $3,000. After developers take a crack at the futuristic device, Microsoft is hoping that product designers will be among the first to scoop up HoloLens.

"When you're designing in 3D, viewing content in 3D is an incredible advantage," stated Sugden. "For designers and engineers using Fusion 360, this also means more effective validation of 3D models—which could mean fewer physical prototypes."

Garin Gardiner, Fusion 360 product manager at Autodesk, wrote in a separate blog post: "When we first saw HoloLens, we immediately sensed the possibilities for 3D engineering and industrial design. And after spending a bit of time with HoloLens, I realized how limiting it is to view 3D objects on a relatively small, flat screen rather than being able to use my entire real-world workspace for 3D design projects."

Microsoft and Autodesk began the collaboration last year, under a project called "FreeForm," revealed Gardiner. Their learnings suggest that HoloLens support in Fusion 360 will involve more than simply projecting the software's UI onto HoloLens' visor.

"To fully understand what we could do with HoloLens, we spent several months building dozens of prototypes and tested many scenarios to understand how customers could benefit most from a mixed reality environment," Gardiner said. "We explored ways to make work areas have infinite space by using walls and open areas overlaid with holographic objects."

Whichever form Fusion 360 on HoloLens takes, it will be a while before designers can take the technology for a spin. "For now, the joint HoloLens and Fusion 360 project is still in development. But the future of holographic computing is likely closer than we all realize," said Gardiner.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...