We reached out to our Science Media Awards finalists with five questions about the experience of making their projects.
HoloAnatomy is a finalist the Virtual Reality category.
What inspired this story?
This story began with a new building. Case Western Reserve University is constructing a new Health Education Campus in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic that will open in 2019. This campus will be the centerpiece of a new way to educate physicians, nurses and dentists. Right now, each of these different professions are educated in isolation, but are then thrown together in the clinic and often struggle to understand their part in the broader patient-care team. They’re not always familiar with the capabilities of their colleagues. This new building was meant to change that. Students will be educated together, and will come out of school as a team. Early on in this building planning, we committed to bringing our students the best possible technology. As part of this, our team was specifically tasked with finding a way to replace hundreds of years of anatomy education with digital technology. The augmented reality experience we’re showing this year is just a taste of the kinds of educational programs that we’ll be offering in this new space using Microsoft HoloLens.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film?
Nobody has ever had access to Microsoft HoloLens before, and nobody has ever taught a large class with this kind of technology, so nearly everything has been challenging. We’ve even had to develop a new language to describe what’s happening, for example, how do you describe what is “real” in a physical sense versus what is “real” in a holographic sense? It has completely distorted our view as to whether something is present in our space or not. Because of this, probably the most challenging part of the past year has been trying to explain our work to people who haven’t experienced HoloLens. It is a technology you truly have to see to believe.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
We hope this augmented reality anatomy experience will be a first step towards changing the way medical professionals are educated across the globe. Cadaver labs are incredibly difficult to establish and maintain, so if we are successful, this could provide access to high-quality anatomy and physiology education to all kinds of students. Longer term, we hope that this type of technology can be used to teach any subject at any level. Case Western Reserve University has committed to this technology because we truly believe Microsoft HoloLens is a key part of the future of education and research.
Were there any surprising or meaningful moments/experiences you want to share?
We have had more than 300 people go through our experience. Every time we ask people to walk from one side of the model to the other, 100 percent of the time, they walk AROUND our holographic person—even though he’s not physically there. It’s amazing how quickly our brains adapt to believing that this hologram is in the room with us.
Another fascinating experience is siting without a HoloLens and watching groups of people interacting with holographic data. You see groups of people intently focusing and pointing at things in thin air. They are definitely talking about something that is real to them, but from the outside we see nothing. It is highly entertaining!
Over the next year, we will be continuing our educational developments. We will also be bringing this kind of experience into new and diverse areas, such as museums and manufacturing facilities. It’s amazing how much overlap we see in terms of needs and requests from very different disciplines and industries.
Any tips for those interested in exploring VR/AR production?
Be prepared to make a lot of mistakes, but don’t stop trying new ways to approach the medium. This is truly a new way of seeing and interacting with the world, and we are far from having this figured out. Do a lot of experiments with people who aren’t on your team. They will give you insight you would never find on your own.
As the curators of the Science Media Awards Summit in the Hub (SMASH), we believe storytelling is a common thread in our shared human experience, and that new media allows us to convey the wonders of scientific discovery in new and compelling ways.