Updated: 23rd October 2017

HoloLens: the virtual reality headset for elevator repair

Microsofts headset, originally for gamers, looks like ski goggles meets bifocals meets Tom Cruise in Minority Report, but its purpose is a serious one

Passengers in a ThyssenKrupp elevator in the tallest building in the western hemisphere might have felt their ears pop on the way to the 63rd floor last Thursday. There, using Minority Report-style mixed-reality glasses, the German engineering behemoth had joined Microsoft to demonstrate the bleeding edge of elevator repair technology.

At One World Trade Center in Manhattan, next to the 9/11 memorial, ThyssenKrupp Elevator Americas chief executive Rich Hussey said the company had been honing its ambitions after the recent Council on Tall Buildings, held this year in New York.

In a Boston accent a little out of place from his German colleagues marbled tones, Hussey said the companys contract for the gigantic skyscraper gave them a number of advantages, including bragging rights regarding a building so famous.

Its an engineering challenge, he said. Its also a chance to prove our technology.

Some of that technology though not the sideways elevators the company hopes to build was on display: a virtual reality headset Microsoft calls the HoloLens, which enables a mechanic to poke around an elevator motor without climbing tens of floors or dangling in a precipitous shaft.

As demonstrated to a few members of the press and engineering professionals, it was an appliance with obvious applications for video gamers. With ThyssenKrupp and other companies participating in a pilot program, however, Microsoft hopes to make a case for using the device professionally as well.

The HoloLens looks like a heavy pair of ski goggles with a ratcheted knob to tighten its plastic straps against your scalp. Its lenses have a darkened square area, as if the inset on a pair of bifocals had been taken from a pair of sunglasses.

When an elevator mechanic puts them on, the square area becomes a window in which he or she can see things that can be touched but not felt. Using hand-motions not too dissimilar from those Tom Cruise used in Minority Report, the influential 2002 Steven Spielberg sci-fi thriller, the wearer can then explode the engine and examine its individual parts, or make it gigantic and wander through it, until he or she find what needs replacing, re-ordering or tweaking, all without needing to know the dozen-syllable German words for the parts in question.

Microsofts cloud-computing products store repositories of such parts and systems as used by the company.

ThyssenKrupp demonstrates HoloLens use for elevator repair.

ThyssenKrupp, like Rolls Royce and other manufacturers of machines marketed on their down-to-the-micron engineering, has an advantage that lets it consider deploying expensive technology like the HoloLens all the way down to the level of the individual client: it employs all its technicians in the US, Hussey said.

It is also expanding and will therefore need faster ways to improve and repair its products an even more important part of its business than sales.

Andreas Schierenbeck, chairman of the executive board at ThyssenKrupp, said such expansion was likely to be vertical.

We are here in one of the birthplaces of skyscrapers he said. Every day we are adding floors the size of Manhattan.

Schierenbeck told reporters that while the one-mile tower is being planned, elevator repair lags far behind such advances.

Half of the elevators in the US are over 20 years old, he said.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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