My Experience at the world's first Holographic Hackathon
So this past weekend I went to Seattle to participate in the first ever Holographic Hackathon. This event sponsored mainly by Microsoft gave a select number of lucky individuals the opportunity to work with the Microsoft HoloLens device. As an organizer of hackathons for the past few years I was beyond excited to be a participant for a change. True this weekend was not the first chance for me to be around the device, we had several at our AEC Hackathon last month in SoCal, but it was the first time I had an uninterrupted weekend dedicated to developing for it.
For those that are not familiar with this augmented reality headset, see the video below from Microsoft's Build 2016 keynote.
Hackathon Day #1
The Holographic Hackathon was held at Fremont Studios just north of downtown Seattle. The venue was a super cool open space with blue lights and black curtains along the walls.
The crowd was an interesting mix of software & Unity developers, audio engineers, artists, and non-technical professionals from various industries. I was pleasantly surprised to see several folks from the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, & Construction) space present and over a dozen others that have participated in either the VR or AEC related hackathons I help organize in Seattle. This diversity of skill sets and knowledge excited me more about the weekend.
The Friday evening started off with a networking mixer and then with an introduction from the Microsoft HoloLens team, Seattle VR, and Windows Holographic User Group Redmond (WinHUGR) Meetup groups. They laid out the agenda for the weekend, shared with us some great resources to help our hacking, and then opened it up to team formations. People wrote their ideas on a huge paper tablet and either stood at their table or walked around looking for team members or teams to join. While I came with a team of three, none of us are pro Unity developers (the main developing environment for HoloLens) so we actively sought someone who could assist our project. After giving the pitch to a few visitors to our table, we finally nabbed a Unity developer named Nicholas Abel that was excited to help us with our construction related application. After teams formed, HoloLens were distributed two per table and wasting no time we setup and begin holo-hacking away.
The goal of our team's weekend project was to create a HoloLens version of a building application my tech team at IDEAbuilder has developed for VR (video) and browser based web3D using the Kinect (Wired article). This application uses digital fabrication ready 3D models of building components to 1) give the user/general contractor the ability to place these items in a scene to build a structure and 2) provide them a price of our material and machine time costs for fabrication at our factory. Think of the application like a Lego builder app but with pricing information and other data for building real houses.
As stated, I am not a Unity developer. Sure I can do basic things in the game engine but as a open standards web guy with a focus on real world industries, it is not my tool of choice. While the rest of my team got hacking away at the project, I began building up my knowledge of the tool for HoloLens development via the tutorials at Microsoft's Holographic Academy website. Hands down this site is among the best resources I have ever accessed for learning anything tech related online. The video and text tutorials were very clear and gave step by step instructions on how to develop for the HoloLens. These tutorials are so well put together that I feel anyone, even if completely new to Unity, can get up and running with development for the device in no time. I was so excited about the progress I was making with the device that time flew by. Knowing it was going to be a long weekend, I called it quits a little after midnight.
By mid-day I had created a few different HoloLens examples and even had time to show some others how to build for it as well while the rest of my team cranked away at our project. One application I made showed the digital fabrication model of a home IDEAbuilder helped build in Tahoe AR'ed into the room. Seeing this model in the HoloLens impressed the hell out of me as it is a lot of polygons (750,000+) to render in any mobile AR device. While not accurate in its scale, the model still took up a huge amount of the venue's space. The video below of this app was recorded with the HoloLens' video record feature.
I continued my HoloLens education for the rest of the day and night when not helping my team members with items related to finishing our project. I was having so much fun learning and building that 8:00 AM Sunday morning snuck up on me. This is when I realized I should probably nap for a few hours since I pulled an all-nighter and I face planted on a big super comfy beanbag chair.
There were close to 20 teams and HoloLens apps for medical, storytelling, shopping, and more. There were even a few AEC related apps by AEC Hackathon alumni. Cody "Kick-ass" Nowak's team made a cool AR measuring app and Willard "the Wizard" Williams showed what architects can do with the device. I could write a whole post on what all the teams created but recommend you check out what they have shared on Twitter using the #HoloHacks hashtag and here at the HoloHacks Facebook page. I hope the Microsoft team puts the videos of the presentations online as well!
This video shows some presentation slides and video footage taken in the HoloLens of our Wall Builder project.
Although our team didn't win any of the three categories and receive the Unity Pro license prize, we all feel the weekend was a huge win and success in itself. I have much love for my team members Chris, Nicholas, and Greg. Thanks guys for all the hard work and awesome time. We really pushed up the bar for innovation in one of humankind's oldest industries.
I learned a lot, made new & saw old friends, and am definitely excited about developing for the HoloLens. Our team is going to polish and take our app much further. I will publish the hackathon version of the Wall Builder app to the HoloLens store in the next couple weeks and update this post with links and make announcements on social media for those interested in trying it.
I thank Dona Sarkar, the Microsoft HoloLens team, and other organizers that made this the best hackathon I have ever participated in as an attendee. I look forward to participating in future HoloHacks and using this device to augmented and improve my reality. Now I just have to get my own to keep the innovation going. :)
**UPDATE - MY FULL REPORT ON THE HOLOLENS**