The partnership is more evidence that Microsoft is aiming the HoloLens technology, at least initially, at the business and commercial market.
Microsoft’s HoloLens has added another corporate partner: a deal with automaker Volvo to work on applications for the holographic headset in selling and designing cars.
The agreement is also the latest evidence that Microsoft expects HoloLens, at least at first, to be a tool used primarily by businesses and other organizations, less a consumer-ready item on store shelves.
Microsoft and Volvo, owned by Chinese automaker Geely, on Thursday announced a deal to collaborate on automotive technologies using the HoloLens. The companies didn’t announce specific projects or the deal’s terms, but a demonstration showed Volvo’s ambitions to use the headsets to help sell cars.
Microsoft’s headset, first shown to the public in January and still tightly controlled by the Redmond company, projects holographic images into the world around the wearer.
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“We really are focusing on the commercial and development audiences first,” Scott Erickson, a Microsoft senior director who leads HoloLens marketing, said Thursday. “We want to make sure we show the breadth of experiences that are possible.”
Microsoft has produced a series of demonstrations with the likes of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Case Western Reserve University.
On Thursday, Microsoft and representatives from Volvo hosted demonstrations on Microsoft’s Redmond campus that took the wearer through a mock showroom.
One projected a rendering of Volvo’s in-design S90 sedan to highlight sensors and other safety features, Another displayed a full-size 3-D image of the car into the room. Viewers got a look at the technology underneath the hood, with the car’s body flying off to reveal the chassis and powertrain underneath.
The headset “helps us explain some of the more complicated features” of a car, said Björn Annwall, a senior vide president of marketing with Volvo. “Readership of the user manual has gone down, to say the least.”
Annwall said the company hadn’t committed to any single use of the device but would test potential applications over the next year with its network of dealerships.
“The first phase to use would be consumer buying,” Annwall said. With potential customers increasingly getting their car-buying information from the Internet, having something unique to add at the dealership can help the company stand out, he said.
Later on, Volvo envisions perhaps usingthe headset in its design and engineering shop, Annwall said. Other possible avenues for collaboration the two companies highlighted include self-driving car technology and services designed to take advantage of the mountain of data generated by modern cars.
Microsoft has spent the past month taking HoloLens devices on a roadshow of the U.S. and Canada to drum up interest among developers. Versions of the headset for software coders are scheduled to go on sale for $3,000 in the first three months of 2016.
The company has tried to draw a distinction between HoloLens, which places images on the real world, and the raft of coming fully immersive virtual-reality headsets that transport the wearer to a different place.
More partnerships to showcase the HoloLens are coming, Microsoft’s Erickson said, without naming interested parties. Companies haven’t been shy about approaching Microsoft with interest in the device, he said.
“There’s a lot more in the works,” he said. “It’s a high-quality problem to have.”