Microsoft HoloLens is coming to more Lowe’s – USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO â If you haven’t triedÂ HoloLens yet, your odds of interacting with Microsoft’s $3,000 developer-onlyÂ augmented reality device just improved.
The Lowe’s home improvement chain will expand a pilot program that allows consumers to virtually design kitchens using HoloLens from two to five stores, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced Monday at Ignite, the company’s week-long conference for IT professionals in Atlanta.
A notable upgrade to the experience is the ability for usersÂ to select appliances or material samplesÂ saved onÂ their Pinterest accounts, whichÂ areÂ thenÂ matched to similar goods sold by Lowe’s and appear in the user’s field of viewÂ as holograms.
Augmented, or mixed, reality overlays images onto the real world via projection. Those images can then be manipulated by the user with gestures.
“Mixed reality takes some getting used to, because we’re all used to pinching to zoom to get closer to things instead of just walking forward,” Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Lab, told USA TODAY in a briefing before Nadella’s announcement. “The idea of using small samples and swatches to try and imagine what a room looks like seems very antiquated now.”
Back in March, Lowe’s addedÂ a HoloLens demo station to its stores in Seattle and Raleigh, N.C. The three new locations have not been disclosed yet.
Beyond providing customers with a potentially streamlined approach to an often head-scratching task, Lowe’s also can capture valuable consumer data based on what items get the most attention and make inventory plans accordingly.
Although Nel did not provide details on how HoloLens has impacted sales, heÂ says on weekends the stores provide access to HoloLens by appointment. Each store hasÂ multiple devices.
“We’re been studying how people make decisions for years,” says Nel, whose lab even asked science fiction writers to image the shopping experience of the future. “What we’reÂ ultimately aimingÂ towardÂ is havingÂ a couple be able to design their kitchen together in mixed reality from their own home.”
That vision will depend on increasing access to cloud-based computing power and lowering the cost of devices such as HoloLens.
Microsoft has been working hard to exploit the power of cloud computing. Nadella also revealed at Ignite an enhanced partnership with Adobe, which will use MicrosoftÂ Azure as its preferred cloud platform forÂ delivering marketing, creative and document services to clients.Â Although Amazon’s AWS dominates the landscape,Â Microsoft, Google and others are making gains as enterprises look toÂ the cloudÂ for powerful data-crunchingÂ capability.
Augmented or mixed reality devices relyÂ heavily on both the cloud andÂ sophisticated goggles that are both expensive and – in the case of HoloLens – only available to developers. When it comes to mass consumer use of AR, smartphones are more likely to be the preferred experience portal as evidenced by this summer’s Pokemon Go craze.
Unless prices drop drastically on complex AR gear such as HoloLens, whose computing power is derived from the space-age headset itself, consumers are more likely to interact with such high-end gear through businesses orÂ universities.
Microsoft has commercial partners such as Case Western University (where students use the device to study medicine)Â and Thyssenkrupp (whose elevator repair personnel diagnose problems with HoloLens). The Kennedy Space Center’s “Destination: Mars” exhibit takes visitors to outer space using HoloLensÂ software MicrosoftÂ builtÂ with NASA’s Jet Propulsion LabÂ for scientists to study the red planet.
Ultimately, analysts expect AR to eclipse its virtual reality cousin, whose opaque goggles â such as Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR â seal out the real world. By 2020, AR will account for 75% of a projected $120 billion market, according to Digi-Capital.
Lowe’s initial HoloLens in-store demo allowedÂ customersÂ to create a virtual kitchen by sorting through goods in the Lowe’s catalog. ThisÂ broader rollout featuring access to Pinterest (and later other social media platforms)Â takes the technology one step closer to helping consumers to see their ideas come to life in holographic form.
“We’re aiming to create a new generation of customer experiences driven by intelligent data and machine learning,” saysÂ Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft’s data group vice president.
Sirosh adds that users can tweak their mixed-reality kitchens in a variety of ways, including changing the height of islands, movingÂ cabinets and altering device sizes, all in an effort to create a kitchen that more closely resembles the area in their own home.
“Making decisions can be time consuming and stressful,” says Sirosh. “Our job is to continue to learn and help companiesÂ improve the consumer experience.”
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Â Marco della CavaÂ @marcodellacava.