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Startup 8ninths uses Microsoft HoloLens to build a partially holographic desk of the future

So far, Microsoft has yet to make an effective productivity case for the HoloLens. But now a new startup, 8ninths, aims to do it for them.

The company has built a “holographic workstation”—a physical desk with a large cutout where holograms can be placed—as a proof-of-concept for Citi financial traders. The company (whose name refers to the proportion of an iceberg lying underwater) demoed the corresponding app for PCWorld on Tuesday. Company executives said they will demonstrate their technology onstage at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco this week, where Microsoft plans to show off its HoloLens augmented reality headset. 

The company, founded by a pair of ex-Microsoft employees plus a creative director with an extensive background in designing virtual experiences, is one of seven outside design studios with early access to the HoloLens via the Microsoft HoloLens Agency Readiness Program. The goal was for the agencies to work together to share best practices and incorporate them into client products, said Adam Sheppard, one of 8ninths' co-founders.

Why this matters: A year ago, Microsoft used games to demonstrate HoloLens, but apps like this one show how the technology could change the way we work. Academics may use HoloLens for modelling a molecule or diagramming a skeleton, while architects could study a building design from all angles. Using the model that 8ninths has produced, financial traders can apply context to enormous streams of numbers. 

From the cloud to the ground

Heather Raikes, the creative director for 8ninths, said that traders provided the concept for the out-of-the-box design, which shows off a “cloud” of industries at the physical top of the desk. Active industries are visually represented as larger icons, signalling an opportunity for the trader.

Physical shelves serve as anchor points for the holograms, as the HoloLens allows you to “stick” a virtual object to a physical location. As a trader moves physically down the desk and data stack, he or she can start digging down deeper into which trades make sense, using business intelligence that translates into visual cues. Users can also pull a particular graph out of the desk entirely, set it on the ground, and walk around it. A virtual colleague can then “meet” with the trader and discuss the opportunity, using the gaze indicator of the HoloLens as a pointing device.

It’s this ability to reorder and reorganize data that sets it apart from an ordinary 2D monitor setup, Raikes said. “I think the spatial organization of information is so powerful, especially when you look at the huge volumes of information that traders are looking at.”

“You really want to optimize the way that the brain works, and our brains are wired to process information three-dimensionally,” Raikes added.  “If you have an onslaught of two-dimensional information coming at a trader for eight hours, you’re just not using your brain to its highest capacity.”

The technology will now be handed off to Citi’s Markets Lab in Tel Aviv, where Citi will work to implement the virtual desks onto its trading floor, 8ninths executives said.

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