The Road to Build
Hi, all! It’s me, Jenna, your friendly neighborhood holographic designer. I know it’s been awhile since my last post, but we’ve been applying our technical and psychological musings on mixed reality to an actual application for the Microsoft HoloLens. I’m sure we’ll have a dedicated blog post about our app soon but this post is about a cool opportunity our app helped us do. This post is about our presentation at Microsoft Build 2017.
During the past year, Kingsley, Jeff, and I went up to Microsoft every couple of months for what they like to call the Holographic Agency Readiness Program. We’ve wrapped now but it was an amazing multisession collaboration with Microsoft engineers on the ins and outs of HoloLens. A lot of what we’re imparting in our blogs, we picked up there. They taught us that spiky holograms were bad and how to integrate volumetric capture into the device. Lastly, they pushed us to actually do one part of the requirement for graduating: an actual bonafide holographic application. We teamed up with one of the leading code compliance software companies, called Praeses, from Shreveport, LA. Together we extended their existing software solution, Jurisdiction Online, to the HoloLens and set forth on creating a holographic inspection application called Jurisdiction Unlimited. Near the end of our dev cycle, our friends at Microsoft suggested we submit a proposal to give a talk at their Build conference. So, our team put together a long document describing our app, how it used mixed reality, its goals, and so on and so forth. We sent it out and to our surprise they wanted to book us for three talks on the Expo floor. It looked like Ayzenberg was going to Build.
Preparing for Build
Our app was based on a partnership between our team and Praeses. It was their knowledge that made our app authentic to the industry so we knew we needed to involve them in our presentation if we were going to make it great. So, it was decided Matt Bretz, myself, and Jacques Couvillion (Director of Regulatory Software at Praeses) would take on this endeavor to deliver one heck of a presentation.
Together we started by identifying the key areas we wanted to focus on in our talk. Our app was designed with the goal of making a preexisting industry safer and more efficient so we decided to open with establishing the need for an application like ours. There have been major accidents in the past and our app is targeted at helping prevent those fatal occurrences.
Next, we dove deeper into specific challenges we had to overcome in designing this app, then showed off features that addressed these issues. For example, boiler rooms are hazardous places and inspectors always need to be aware of their surroundings, so we showed off our non-invasive quick access menu which keeps the inspector’s view free from constant obstruction. I know, I know. You’re probably now asking, “But Jenna. Dear, sweet, loveable Jenna. How did you show off such features? Did you provide everyone in the audience a HoloLens so they could follow along? Because I know you didn’t use the ultra-low-res 30fps native HoloLens capture. That simply wouldn’t do your app justice.” Well of course not, rhetorical voice in this blog! We actually rigged a camera with a secondary HoloLens and filmed our app in 1080p 60fps using Spectator View software. Our next blog will actually go deeper into what that experience was like, but boy howdy was that a toughie.
Then we wanted to cover what it was like taking Praeses’ preexisting 2D software into the mixed reality realm. A lot of that had to do with how we had to deal with their dataset. Luckily their system was built on a JSON structure, so we were easily able to ingest their inspection data. But some things actually had to change, so we worked with the Praeses devs to figure out the best way to add mixed reality components to their structure (3D position and rotation values, for example). We also took a look at our target user, which was Praeses’ average building inspector: a 52-year-old male. Our users weren’t tech savvy like 25-year-old gamers, so this meant we had to, when possible, not reinvent the wheel when it came to entering data and structuring the inspection process. They’ve been doing their job well for years so we had to take a lot of what they already do into account when designing this app.
Lastly, Microsoft asked us to make our presentation more “entertaining” than a traditional trade show Powerpoint presentation. So we embedded all these insights into a short play, basically, that Matt, Jacques and I practiced on an almost daily basis in the weeks leading up to Build.
You know how when December hits it feels like Christmas is forever away until you wake up on the 25th and you’re like, “Whoa, Christmas is actually happening.” Well that’s what Build felt like for me. For weeks we practiced and prepped and Build just seemed like something on the horizon but when I finally set foot on the expo floor I was like, “Whoa, Build is actually happening.”
So, let me paint you all a picture of the what the expo floor was like (or scroll down for a non-metaphorical picture). Everywhere I looked I saw cutting-edge tech. Look to the left, Internet of Things demos, to the right, Azure Cloud talks. There was even a VR experience rigged to a moving platform to make users feel like they’re a window washer on a rickety scaffold 100 stories in the air. And nestled in a quaint little corner was our home: Expo Stage C (the best of the expo stages for unquantifiable reasons).
Honestly, I was expecting only a few people to show up because life is inherently cruel, but for our first talk, we filled nearly every seat. And I don’t think those 20+ people were let down. After weeks of rehearsing our team was so confident in the subject matter that our scripted talk turned into an almost improved conversation. While none of us are as good as an orator as Obama, our presentation went amazingly smooth for a developers conference. What really touched my heart though was when we first showed our quick access menu. I saw about five people pull out their phones and start filming our application capture. People actually thought what we did was innovative enough to save a video record so they could rip us off in the future. #blessed.
We had three talks in total and they all went just as smooth (although Matt Bretz did forget his name during talk #3. I’ll give you a hint, Matt. It’s Matt). All in all, I was proud of this experience. We shared our successes and shortcoming with a large group of developers all trying to understand this new medium. But if I’m going to be real with you, internet audience, what I took away from our Build presentations was something much more selfish. We spent months working on our app and I was at the point where I was so deep into it that I no longer knew if it was actually any good. But I left Seattle not feeling that way. I left knowing that our team objectively succeeded in our endeavor. We actually did it. :’)