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Microsoft Stumps for HoloLens at Envision Keynote

At the opening keynote of Microsoft's inaugural Envision conference in New Orleans, the spotlight was on HoloLens and how Microsoft sees the virtual reality technology transforming a wide swath of industries.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked up HoloLens during his keynote speech on Monday, just days after Microsoft made the devices and associated SDKs and APIs available for purchase by qualified software developers.

In addition to announcing the release of the HoloLens Development Edition at last week's Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft also said it would be supported in the forthcoming Windows 10 "anniversary update" that's slated for release this summer.

Nadella is an avid proponent of the kind of holographic computing enabled by HoloLens, which creates 3-D virtual reality-type experiences. Microsoft believes HoloLens has the potential to enhance how people work, learn, communicate and play. Nadella emphasized that point to developers at Build last week and reiterated it Monday at Envision, which is a new event aimed at business leaders tasked with digital transformation. Envision replaces Microsoft's old Convergence event.

"This notion of this new medium of mixed reality that comes to life with HoloLens is reshaping architecture, industrial design and many other fields of operations," Nadella said in his keynote following a demonstration of how Ecolab is using HoloLens to address global water shortages.

Microsoft and NASA last year revealed their plans to test HoloLens for a project called Sidekick, which is aimed at enabling ground crews to provide visual assistance to astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS). Using Microsoft's Skype for Business, NASA's ground crew was able to troubleshoot and fix problems in the ISS using holographic output.

Scott Kelly, an astronaut who recently spent a year in space in the ISS, joined Nadella onstage Monday to describe his use of HoloLens with his NASA colleagues. Kelly is one of several select pilot users of HoloLens. Kelly admitted that when he first saw HoloLens prior to embarking on his historic 340-day space mission, he was captivated with the concept but skeptical it would be useful.

"Before I flew in space on this mission, I went to Seattle and looked at the HoloLens and was very, very impressed. But I was also a little doubtful we would be able to make this technology work on the space station," Kelly said. "Usually when you're doing anything, there are startup transients and we have a Wi-Fi network up there that isn't always working top notch. But when we turned it on, I was pretty amazed at how seamlessly it worked with their system on board the space station and was very impressed what will in the future be its ability to help us do our work."

At Build last week, Microsoft outlined how a number of early testers -- including Volvo, Japan Airlines, Autodesk, and a group of researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic -- have spent the past year running pilot programs that make use of HoloLens.

Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic, which have teamed together to build a new medical school, revealed their intent to test HoloLens at last year's Build. During the 2016 Build event last week, Pamela Davis, dean of Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine, said the new medical school plans to use HoloLens as part of the curriculum. Davis and two members of her team demonstrated how HoloLens will help students better understand the digestive and nervous systems and learn how to diagnose a brain tumor.

"Being untethered and able to walk around 3-D holographic content gives our students a real advantage," Davis said. "Students have commented that a 15-minute session with HoloLens could have saved them dozens of hours in the cadaveric lab. When we have only four short years to train them, this is invaluable."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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