What if you could rouse a rendering to life, from the flatness of two dimensions to the realism of three? Mixed reality—a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image onto a user’s view of reality, creating a hybrid world where real and holographic items are, well, mixed—isn’t merely the territory of techies, gamers and software engineers. It’s also an innovation that may hold ample, if yet untapped, potential for interior designers. The Microsoft HoloLens, which uses lenses to project holograms onto the viewer’s environment, is now being applied to architecture and construction, with some interesting implications for interior design.
“HoloLens is a device you wear on your head, a bit like a halo,” explains Dave Crawford, senior user experience program manager at Microsoft. “It has some transparent lenses on the front that sit on your nose like glasses. It is completely untethered in that it doesn’t require a phone, PC or tablet connection to work; it is a completely self-contained Windows 10 device. Unlike virtual reality, which seals you off from the real world, you can see through the lenses in HoloLens. It continually scans the environment around you and overlays holograms into your space.”
Microsoft hasn’t built software specifically for interior designers yet, though the company is seeking partners to apply for development kits. (App builders can submit their ideas through January 11.) Crawford notes the potential: “Because it is continually scanning the space around you, HoloLens can recognize surfaces and can anchor holograms to them. For example, you could place an item of holographic furniture in your room and walk around it, lean in closer for a better look, etc., and it won’t move from that spot.”
Exploring HoloLens applications in a living room setting
The tool is being used in architecture and construction, such as via a partnership with Trimble, a firm that provides design solutions for architects and structural engineers. “Today, the best way [the hundreds of parties involved on a particular project] have to interact with each other is paper, paper drawings. But people aren’t good at visualizing 3D,” Doug Brent, vice president of technology innovation at Trimble, explains. 3D technology like the HoloLens allows architects to become fully immersed in an in-progress project, viewing how it will look in the context of a real environment as opposed to on paper. It also allows real-time collaboration, letting users in different locations enter and interact with the environment together. Other current partners include Volvo, Case Western Reserve University, Autodesk and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
There are a number of conceivable benefits for designers: visualizing a space; seeing the full capabilities of a product; collaborating with clients located out of the country (or simply out of the office). “The more we can see, the better we can design,” says interior designer Jon Call of Mr Call Designs. “Over the last year, all the projects I’ve been working on have required measuring professional, high-level renderings. I’ve noticed that I get the renderings, and it takes about three months, and once I get the rendering it goes immediately into marketing/advertising [for commercial projects]. I realize, I could’ve done this so much better if I had these renderings three months earlier. We do the best we can with 2D, but when it comes to more fine-tuned details, technology like HoloLens allow the designer to solve more problems ahead of time—before the project gets into construction.”
“Secondly,” Call says, “I would use it with clients; they’re so busy and we don’t have offices to do reviews during the design. We email imagery and proposals or FedEx materials and plans, but we’re generally doing the reviews remotely. It’s difficult for clients to visualize what an interior is going to look like. When they get samples and 2D drawings, it can be scary for residential clients—when they’re taking their own money and investing it in themselves, they really want to see it.” Call described a frustrating experience after buying a carpet that he loved from Alpha Workshops. “They gave me a two-inch sample, and I have a photo of what it would look like in a larger scale. But the client could not see what it would look like in the finished space. The client got nervous, and ended up going with a safer decision, versus risking an adverse decision. I’m seeing that across the board with residential—clients will go with the safer decision because they can’t visualize it.”
The tool can also bring apps and videos to life. Smartphone users, for instance, may still be constrained by the need to click a mouse or touch a screen, but holograms allow users to pin digital content like apps and multidimensional videos in the physical space surrounding them, so they can interact with them as they do with physical objects. (Check out the above video to see this feature in action.)
For the immediate future, the concept may be relegated to the trade, shares designer Campion Platt of Campion Platt Interiors, who has been following developments in 3D, augmented-reality and virtual-reality technologies and their applications for architecture and interior design. “Hololens, Oculus and Magic Leap are, I believe, important technologies to watch. Using HoloLens today for architecture is an important step in visual communication; however, for interior design, it is still aspirational,” he tells EAL. “HoloLens can be a very good commercial tool used by professionals, but the wide application of this technology must be for average consumers, the ones who have facile use of the smartphone, aren’t gamers, and need to design their interiors with the same ease as making a shopping list for the family.”
Yet, Platt continues, “It’s great that Microsoft is behind HoloLens, as it takes a giant to get the tech and the content partnerships right. These kind of technologies will empower homeowners and change our industry forever. I can’t wait.”