Microsoft said last fall that it would allow third-party hardware makers to build their own HoloLens devices. The first, perhaps not surprisingly, will be made by Intel: Project Alloy.
Alloy will be a wire-free,head-mounted VR device, complete with a pair of RealSense cameras to detect the outside world, including what Intel called “five-finger detection,” or the ability to actually “see” your hand and allow it to interact with virtual objects. Intel did not release a price or a ship date for Project Alloy, nor disclose which chip is powering it.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich introduced Project Alloy at the opening keynote Tuesday for the company’s Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. It’s not clear whether Intel will actually manufacture Alloy, however; Krzanich added that midway through 2017, the company plans to open-source the hardware.
In December 2016, Microsoft and Intel plan to jointly release a spec for head-mounted devices like the HoloLens and Alloy at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in December in Shenzhen, China.
Microsoft’s OS chief Terry Myerson, who appeared onstage with Krzanich, announced that, simultaneously, Microsoft plans to release an update to Windows 10 that enables Windows Holographic, the operating system that powers the HoloLens.
Given those two upcoming milestones, “what this means is that anybody can take the Alloy hardware, combined with Windows Holographic, to any manufacturer they choose,” Krzanich said.
It’s important to note, however, that Project Alloy is a virtual reality device, a distinct product from the HoloLens, which uses augmented reality to superimpose graphics over the real world. In a demo, for example, executives showed off a “real” image of Krzanich inside the virtual world. Krzanich, in fact, referred to something called “mixed reality” to describe the intersection of the real and virtual worlds.
To sense the real world, Alloy uses dual RealSense cameras, the depth camera that Intel began showing off a few years ago. RealSense can measure relative depth and position, and even orientation, which makes the camera appropriate for VR as well as robots and even drones, Krzanich said.
Project Alloy also is a victory of sorts for Microsoft’s vision. Even though the HoloLens uses augmented reality, Microsoft thinks that Windows Holographic could be used to power VR devices, as well. For now, VR device makers like Oculus have refused to buy in. Intel apparently feels differently.
Updated at 12:29 PM with a picture of Project Alloy and more details.