Major technology companies such as Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Apple, Sony, and Facebook are investing significant funding in the development of low-cost virtual and mixed reality systems, and Microsoft’s HoloLens is already being used in some applications, such as NASA’s OnSight system, which enables users to explore 3-D stereo views of the Martian environment and to get a natural sense of depth and understanding of spatial relationships.

These devices promise to break down the barriers between virtual and physical reality, and enable the physical and virtual worlds to intersect in new ways. And they have some very real engineering applications that could well transform the profession as profoundly as the personal computer did a generation ago.

Engineers, designers, architects, and animation teams at various organizations are using the HoloLens technology to discover the best practices and most powerful application for this new computing platform.

NASA, for instance, has been working with Microsoft on developing software tools to exploit the HoloLens. Another NASA application called ProtoSpace uses holograms for spacecraft design. NASA engineers recently used ProtoSpace to check the size of the rover’s nuclear batteries, which is one of the last tasks done before launch, and to make sure they would fit inside the rocket that would launch the spacecraft to Mars.  Another application being developed is called Sidekick. That tool is intended to provide crews aboard the International Space Station with assistance for complicated tasks.

The Swedish defense and security company Saab has created a holographic training system for the HoloLens, and automakers Volvo and Volkswagen are working with Microsoft to demonstrate the use of HoloLens in lieu of CAD software for seeing life-size 3-D design schematics.

The engineering and construction firm CDM Smith, Boston, Mass., is discovering how to apply the HoloLens technology through the entire product life cycle. During the planning phase of building plant upgrades or extensions, for instance, engineers are uploading CAD files into the HoloLens to visualize how additional pumps or pipes will fit into the existing space.  During the design phase, the entire project team dons HoloLenses to “walk through” the final project and experience the project via holograms within the physical environment of the existing site. A safety issue in the layout that would not be obvious in the blueprints can be seen in the holographic representation and team members can suggest changes to the design before construction begins.

As the technology improves, watch for holographic computers capable of rendering high-resolution 3-D digital content that blends seamlessly with our environment; manipulating that content will become as easy and natural; holographic computing platforms and headsets will be light and small enough to wear all the time and will include user-specific situational awareness.

>>Read more by Ahmed K. Noor, Mechanical Engineering Magazine, October 2016

The HoloLens Revolution