20 Dec

Holograms in Education Are Being Road-Tested at London’s Imperial College

    A hologram is only as important as what it has to say.

    The writers of science fiction seemed to know that fact, and if you’re a fan of Star Trek or Star Wars you’ll know that holograms weren’t used for social chatting, they delivered important information.

    Just listen to perhaps the most famous holographic message of all time, as delivered by a desperate Princess Leia:

    “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”  

    The same is true of the most recent incarnation of holographic conversation. Students of London’s Imperial College Business School recently became the first in the world to test the use of holograms in education.

    The message on display during the world’s first holographic event at a university was about promoting roles and opportunities for women in tech. Across several video conferencing studios set up in the U.S. and the UK, students in London were able to interact with 3D representations of guest speakers in New York and Los Angeles.

    The trans-Atlantic conversation was the dawn of a holographic future for all educational settings.

    Bringing Holograms to Universities

    As you can see from this footage taken from the Imperial College event, the holograms involved look more like apparitions than solid human forms.

    That’s because these aren’t true holograms. Rather, they’re an updated version of a century-old theater trick known as Pepper’s Ghost whereby incoming video conferencing images are projected onto a glass screen set in front of an elaborate backdrop, creating the illusion of depth and connection to the live environment.

    The creators of this new version, however, have managed to simplify the trick and therefore enormously reduce the cost, bringing it into the financial reach of a university. This is still video conferencing, though, so while the images may flicker a little, both the students and their remote guest lecturers are able to conduct a back-and-forth conversation in real-time. The lecturers can even make eye contact with their audience by looking at HD monitors within their home studios.

    If you can forgive what we will no doubt soon come to think of as crude imagery, holographic technology promises to open up a world of educational possibilities.

    Reaching Multiple, Simultaneous Live Audiences

    Video conferencing is essentially a form of travel–a very cheap one at that, once you balance the cost of the technology against the cost of flights, accommodation, and entertainment (we’ve written about video conferencing used to reduce government spending).

    In fact, the College is already planning to beam its more popular teachers into several different remote lecture theaters at the same time.

    More importantly, it is the only form of travel that allows its passengers to appear in multiple places at the same time. Just as the video conferencing equipment you use at work or at home allows you to speak face-to-face with dozens of people located in different places, so, too, does the Imperial College hologram.

    In fact, the College is already planning to beam its more popular teachers into several different remote lecture theaters at the same time. The only drawback is that every participating venue must have access to the unique holographic technology needed to create the illusion. The star of the show only needs to be filmed in front of a black background while being lit from both sides, which is within the capacity of most venues. For the “hologram” to show up in front of the target audience, however, the audience’s venue must have a special screen and backdrop in place.

    That may be why what the Imperial College did recently isn’t widely copied elsewhere. Give the tech world a little time to streamline the process, or produce a mobile version, however, and we could soon be seeing holograms in education everywhere.

    The Future of Holograms in Education

    As we briefly mentioned earlier, video conferencing is a cheaper alternative to physical travel once you move beyond your immediate city or state. That fact alone should make holographic technology enticing for any school that regularly receives or dispatches lecturers or visiting professors.

    These holograms don’t have to be sent on one-off missions, though. They could be deployed throughout a school district or across an entire nation to maximize the resources that are our best educators.

    The significance of the holographic version of video conferencing over its traditional flat-screen cousin is immersion.

    A single school with a budget to accommodate specialist subjects or those lucky enough to employ world-leaders in their fields could regularly share their educational wealth through scheduled virtual classes. The U.S. government is already funding education through video conferencing in remote areas such as Alaska. Once the cost of hosting a holographic video conference drops, students everywhere could get a 3D lecture from an expert in science, math, languages, or any other subject.

    The significance of the holographic version of video conferencing over its traditional flat-screen cousin is immersion. The more true-to-life a video representation becomes, the easier it is to interact with and the better it can hold the attention of students. After all, that’s why video is currently gaining prominence over voice-only calls in the workplace.

    Our most important messages deserve our most advanced forms of communication. Holograms in education will ensure those messages are heard by as many people as possible.

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