Introduction

Welcome to the first of a multi-part series on Dynamics, Mixed Reality, and HoloLens.  This series is aimed at current Dynamics 365 users that may not be familiar with Mixed Reality or how it can be used with Dynamics.  In this post we'll cover what Mixed Reality and HoloLens are, and introduce the Dynamics Mixed Reality apps.  In later posts we will dive into each application in more detail and discuss uses cases for each. Let's get started.

If you're like me, you were first introduced to virtual reality many years ago through movies like the Lawnmower Man.  The idea of immersing yourself in a totally different world was fascinating and easy to imagine.  A few years later I started hearing the terms Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality, and like a lot of people I just lumped them in with Virtual Reality. 

Then, Augmented Reality glasses came along that projected some 2-dimensional contextual information on to your real field of view, and I thought that's what Mixed and Augmented Reality must be.

A few years later I heard about this thing called the HoloLens and I assumed it was Microsoft's version of Google Glass.  There was talk of holograms, but that had to be a gimmick right?  Holograms are only in movies and cool stickers right?  It wasn't until I had the opportunity to try a HoloLens that it all clicked.  In an instant I knew I was experiencing a completely new and transformative technology.  I also now understood the true meaning of all three reality terms, which I'll get to.

At that time I had recently started working at Microsoft as a Dynamics 365 Premier Field Engineer (great job for a great company).  It seemed worlds apart from HoloLens, and I couldn't exactly run to Best Buy and pick one up, so I waited.  Then finally, about a year ago, those two worlds started to merge.  Microsoft released its first set of Dynamics applications for Mixed Reality and HoloLens.  I was able to acquire a HoloLens 1 (there's a 2 now) and began exploring.

So why am I telling you all this?  I'm hoping you can relate to my journey to Mixed Reality enlightenment and that it might help you gain some clarity as well.

What are all these realities?

If you find the various reality terms confusing, you're not alone.  Let's quickly examine the three main terms in this space - Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR).

  • VR is fully immersive, meaning you can't see anything in the real world.  This is great for gaming or taking a tour of Venice, but not so great if you need to walk around or work in a real space.
  • AR overlays text and images on your real world environment, but is not spatially aware and therefore cannot “mix” with or “anchor” to the space you’re in.  I like to think of it like a heads up display.  Something like what the Terminator or a fighter pilot might see.
  • MR, which is often confused with AR, takes things to another level.  It "mixes" virtual 3-dimensional objects (holograms) with objects in the real world allowing the two to coexist and interact.  It’s spatially aware and allows you to walk around and interact with these objects as though they were really there.  Place a model on your floor, walk out the front door, come in the back door, and your model stays right where you left it.

Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality are often used interchangeably so it's easy to get confused, but they are not the same thing.

On a side note, recently one of my kids’ cereal boxes had a cardboard cut out on the back to make “Actual Reality” glasses, which gave us a good laugh.

What is HoloLens?

HoloLens is a self-contained, untethered MR headset with a holographic processor that melds 3-dimensional holograms seamlessly into the real world. No phones, additional computing, or cords required.  The lens is clear so you can see everything around you, and by using hand gestures and/or voice commands you can open applications, anchor browser windows and documents on walls, place 2-way video calls, and place 3-dimensional, holographic objects on tables or floors and interact with them.  Think of Tony Stark in his lab modeling new elements and Iron Man suits.

There’s no substitute for trying one, but a video is the next best thing.  This introductory video should help connect the dots and leave you wanting to see more.

So What's The Big deal?

Who cares if you can see things that aren't really there?  Well that’s exactly the point. Now you can work with people and objects as if they really were there.  It literally adds a new dimension to computing by moving things off your screen and fusing them with the real world.  We can learn, teach, design, build, repair and play in entirely new ways.  This technology has the potential to transform how we do business.  To get your creative juices flowing, here are some practical examples of what you can do with MR:

  • Medical - Imagine practicing medical procedures on detailed, life-size, 3-dimensional models of the human anatomy with interactive guidance from a doctor, without an actual human subject.
  • Assembly and maintenance of equipment - A field tech can refer to documentation, view step by step instructions with animations, see markers on the actual equipment, and receive remote guidance, while keeping their hands free throughout.
  • Construction & Architecture - Imagine being able to walk through a detailed, life-sized model of a building on the actual jobsite before construction even starts.  Imagine walking through a building in progress with the ability to see what's right, what's wrong, and what's left to be done while your team watches and comments remotely.
  • Design & Layout - Imagine walking through your new warehouse or factory (or that of a customer) and being able to view and rearrange life sized fixtures and equipment in the actual space.  Imagine seeing how 10 different couches look in your living room, without leaving your living room.

You can start to see the possibilities.  Use of MR in training & education, field service, construction, logistics, Inspections, sales, and other areas has the potential to reduce costs, boost productivity, and improve customer service. 

What Does This Have to do with Dynamics?

When you consider the use cases cited above and the fact that Dynamics sits at the core of sales, customer service, and field service operations for many companies, it is the ideal launch pad for commercial applications of MR.  The introduction of a set of MR applications for Dynamics has made it easy for companies to start taking advantage of MR now, without custom development or a huge investment.

With a little bit of setup, resources in the field can access their service calendar, view products and equipment, launch interactive guides, and get expert remote assistance.  There are currently four Mixed Reality Applications for Dynamics:

Remote Assist

Through integrations with Dynamics and Microsoft Teams, resources in the field can view their service calendar and place 2-way video calls for remote assistance.  Off-site experts can see what the onsite resource sees, and even place anchored holographic arrows and other markers into the workspace to help diagnose and repair issues.  You can place your best techs anywhere in the world in an instant, reduce travel costs, and improve customer service.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-C6GE2gFYw

Guides

Administrators can create step by step guides for resources in the field, without custom code, to walk them through procedures.  Guides can contain text, videos, and holograms for each step and can be linked directly to services in Dynamics. Using HoloLens a field resource can select a service appointment from their calendar, open the associated guide, and step through the procedure, keeping their hands free the whole time. Train your team and complete service calls in less time by keeping their eyes and hands on task.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8c3pDKdHEc

Layout

Layout allows you to pull life-size 3-diemsional objects into your space, move them around, measure distances, and then actually walk through the space.  You can use predefined layouts or let the HoloLens map the space you're in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9viR6U-D2Co

Product Visualize

Product Visualize allows you to see life-size, 3-dimensional objects in your real space using a phone or tablet running iOS.  It does not use HoloLens, but is a useful sales tool that provides a good introduction to MR using devices that many field resources already have.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk2HzxZfkW4

For more details on these apps you can visit https://dynamics.microsoft.com/en-us/mixed-reality/overview/

Summary

One of the early challenges with Mixed Reality is being able to apply it in practical ways without spending an arm and a leg on custom development.  With the introduction of these tools, Microsoft has done a great job of packaging up the core value proposition in a way that makes it accessible to everyone.  Do these applications meet every advanced MR need?  Hardly.  We are only just scratching the surface.  But if you’re a Dynamics customer with resources in the field, these solutions deserve serious consideration.

If you’d like to hear more, follow this blog and watch for part two of the series where I’ll cover Remote Assist.  Feel free to post comments and questions below as well.  Thanks for reading.  Now back to reality.