When the HoloStudy Demo app for HoloLens came out in September, it was a pretty impressive start to what could be a very valuable science tool for education. Now, Moscow-based HoloGroup, makers of HoloStudy, started an Indiegogo campaign to improve their modular teaching app.
If you have a HoloLens, you have likely looked at the slick interface and great shader usage of HoloStudy. With a modest starting goal of $30,000, HoloGroup could be the first successfully crowdfunded holographic application. While they have tempered their starting goal, they are hoping to reach a $2 million stretch goal.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to HoloGroup's Business Development Executive, Michael Kirich, to learn about the work that they do and what they can expect in the future. (Note that Kirich's responses have been edited for clarity.)
NextReality: Let's start out easy. Tell me a bit about the goals and aspirations of HoloGroup?
Michael Kirich: We are in love with mixed reality, and one of our business directions is to employ this technology in education. We have some commercial projects, and mixed reality education is something for the near future. Currently, HoloLenses are fucking expensive for schools, and there is no content. That's why it's hard for us to invest in that direction of business. So we decided to launch crowdfunding.
We really want to make that stuff free for everyone, and we estimated that $2 million dollars would be fair enough to make all subjects for free forever! Schools would not have to buy applications, they just need to buy a HoloLens or Meta 2 and enjoy.
NR: Wow! That is a lofty goal. Obviously, the HoloLens community can't get you there on its own. Have you been getting any information out to educational organizations?
MK: Yes, but educational organizations are so bureaucratic and conservative, and they do not have the budget. We are oriented more toward progressive parents to inspire them for a better education for their children. The other goal of the campaign is actually to find progressive educational organizations.
NR: From a development standpoint, the HoloStudy class that you released for the HoloLens looks amazing! Was it made using Unity? What other tools does your team use to refine the look?
MK: Thanks! Yes, it's Unity. We do modeling in Maya. We code some shaders. The key thing is to find a balance between good picture and performance.
NR: I would say the shader coding was definitely a major factor to the geology lesson you released.
NR: The flow of the application was smooth. User experience is obviously a big element for your team. Does someone specific lead that area or is it a group effort?
MK: Very good question! That is the thing we struggle with because we have some experienced programmers and some new ones. Those who are experienced, they have kind of a tacit knowledge of how a menu should look, and some hidden user experience things. Those who are new, they don't understand it. Then, Alex [Founder and CEO, Alexey Yakubov] and I have to explain to them from the position of the user how to make holograms and menus and gestures better. So finally, we really want to standardize these things and find a good designer next year that will do that. It's a key knowledge, actually, along with shaders coding, C#, Unity, etc.
NR: I find the newer guys aren't as limited by what came before, this being such a new type of UX. But they tend to have to go through a good deal of trial and error to get it right. This, of course, can be rather expensive.
MK: Absolutely. It takes 1 month for a guy to produce some mediocre results. 2 months—good results.
NR: In light of WinHEC 2016 and many of the various hardware announcements in the last few months, and the preparation for different mixed reality hardware options in 2017, do you think there will be good options as HoloStudy is prepared for a larger release? Less expensive untethered options for schools? Do you allow yourself to plan on things that may or may not exist?
MK: We are opportunistic. Many guys ask us, why do we believe in HoloLens? Why isn't it another technological hype? First, it was just our gut feeling, but then we started seeing a lot of similar glasses are going to hit the market.
For schools, we see that Meta 2 can be an option as they cost $1,000—what is 3 times cheaper [than HoloLens]—and we know that any similar device will use Unity and Windows 10, and we will not have trouble to move from HoloLens to some other device. But what is missing is the content, and we want to be the first to create it.
NR: Being based in Russia, do you think the culture there is ready for the coming mixed reality explosion? As passionate as I am about the technology, when I watch certain people experience it, I get disheartened a bit. I get scared that if we don't do this right, it will be a repeat of Google Glass, even though it is so much more.
MK: Actually, yes! Because we live in an international world, it means that we have international companies who are okay to use new technologies. We have some progressive thinkers in Russian companies also. For big companies, $3,000 is nothing. But I would first say that it does not depend on what country you are in, it depends on people you are talking with.
There are innovators, early adopters—they try HoloLens and say, "YES, that thing is gonna rule the world! I know how I will use it in my company. I have this case, this case, we can do that stuff."
And there are people who just say, "Ammm, okay, but field of views sucks," "$3,000 is too expensive," and "How do you differ from VR?" or "boring!"
So, it's all up to people.
NR: Any final words you would like to add?
MK: Even if we do not meet our goal, we will continue to make applications, and those who back us will receive their perks anyway. We will find some funds on the side from investors. We believe in education of new era—the holographic one!
And we will do our job!
It seems that every day someone I talk to calls me passionate. Especially when I start talking about mixed reality and HoloLens. It is good for this heart to see the other people like me out there that are as passionate about HoloLens as I am.