On Holographic Telepresence

Alex Kipman, the head of the Hololens project at Microsoft, gave a talk on the TED stage where he showed off some fantastic new Hololens demos and talked about the future of the technology.

Source: Check out Alex Kipman’s mesmerizing HoloLens TED talk   [I’ll replace the low-quality video with the official TED video when it’s out]

I am almost-beyond-words excited to finally see Microsoft showing off its holographic telepresence. Immersive games in your living room are amazing. Enterprise apps will be empowering. But Telepresence is the killer app for AR, hands down. It’ll still be some time before this replaces video chat and phone calls for everyone, but that time will pass quickly.

Holographic Telepresence is the main reason I pushed so hard for our small Analog Labs team to pursue head-worn displays (Screen Zero, as it was originally called). The original prototyping work behind the very first patent on this started a few months before I joined Alex’s team, with a simple demo of me as a video-quality “Star Wars” hologram, showing a better way to communicate.

Over in Craig Mundie’s org (SBG), we’d been trying to develop Avatar-based telepresence up to then, culminating in Avatar Kinect. I learned just how far we are from making avatars good enough for every day use. [Sorry Faceblock, it’s going to be a long while to wait. ]

Just as I joined the amazing team of PMs, designers and engineers in Analog Labs, we were fortunate to be asked by upper management to re-imagine the next Xbox console. We were still in the last nine months of shipping Kinect. Alex, Ryan, Mark, Johnny and others were heads down, working super hard on finishing Kinect.

For our top secret Screen Zero/Fortaleza, it was actually perfect timing, inside a company notorious for in-fighting and killing inspired ideas — unless of course they could show billion dollar values early on or directly support the mothership (Windows/Office). AR was not nearly at that point of confidence. Far from it, it was more likely to cost a billion than earn it anytime soon. (I’d estimate 1-2 billion spent thus far).

Needless to say, at the time, AR was a giant ball of risk. Few people understood the potential or the actual time to market. In fact, Alex was originally going to pursue autostereo 3D televisions as the “next big thing,” a kind of follow-up to Kinect. But after seeing six months of concepting, prototyping, and demos for Screen Zero, even Alex was convinced this stuff will be the future. It was just a matter of time and money, both of which Microsoft had.

I give Alex so much credit for getting the project to this point. In my opinion, he was the only person I’d met in the entire company with the political skills needed to keep HoloLens alive long enough to see daylight. It’s difficult to even describe the kinds of “House of Cards” maneuvers he had to do to remain in control, gather more resources (people & tech) and prevent disruption from executives and even former executives who either didn’t get it or had other ideas.

I may get around to telling the rest of the story some other time. But I just wanted to say how proud I am of the team and the vision to show the world a glimpse of our collective future.

2 thoughts on “On Holographic Telepresence

  1. Pingback: The inventor of Microsoft’s Hololens has left his job at Apple | InfoBuzz

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