My lecturer is a Hologram

Being a hologram teacher

Being a Hologram Teacher

As a researcher into ‘Video Teaching’ my quest is to experiment first-hand with different forms of video teaching. Last December I saw a presentation at OEB on Hologram Teachers from Imperial College Business School. In February, when I was visiting London, I got to try out first-hand what it is like to be a hologram lecturer.

First, capture your hologram

The first step is to capture the presenter in a hologram format. This happened at a studio in London. The captured image is then projected live as a life-sized, 3d hologram, into a location anywhere in the world. This is the ‘complete end-to-end solution for the creation, transmission, and delivery of lifelike digital human holograms’.

The set-up in the capture studio in London is as follows. I stood on a slightly raised black stage with a black background. There were two side lights, two back lights and one overhead light. These illuminated the ‘edges’ of my body. I was wearing a long sleeved black shirt which was not the right choice! My informal T-shirt and bare arms made me more visible. A ceiling microphone picked up my voice. An audio device in my ear meant I could hear the audience.

The capture camera was about 50 cm off the ground and about 6 meters away. This set-up captured me from head to toe. The low camera position meant I had to look down a bit into the camera when presenting. This gives the impression I am looking ‘into the eyes’ of the audience. On the raised stage I felt relaxed. I chatted with Brandon in the Toronto office. The lights were quite bright and I focused on looking down to the capture camera close to the floor. The active posture was a natural stance for conversation. I concentrated on communicating with Brandon by looking into the camera lens. Since only a certain area me was captured, I needed to stay in one place to avoid losing my hands as I talked.

Projection of the hologram

My captured image was projected synchronously as a life size hologram to my colleague Brandon. In the receiving studio in Toronto, a projector shone my image onto a see-through screen. Behind the see-through screen, there was a backdrop of curtains which give my projected image depth. The hologram image appears to be standing free on the stage. Very quickly, your brain convinces you that the person in front of you is really there.

Amazingly life-like

The results are really quite amazing. When I first talked live with a hologram it instantly felt normal. Brandon was in Toronto and I was in London. Yet he was standing in front of me, life size, as a 3d hologram. Within a few seconds, I forgot I was talking to a hologram. We talked in real time with a minimal time lag (0.3 seconds). It was just a normal conversation.

Wow Factor

This is quite a transformation in video teaching technology. There is a ‘Wow’ factor, like Princess Leia appearing as a hologram in Star Wars. And teaching as a hologram could be quite effective in getting information across. The viewer is very engaged. It is harder to look away. With almost no delay, communication is real time. The life size presence makes it feel more personal than a regular video screen. Perhaps in a few years’ time we will all be teaching and learning via holograms. For the moment it is exciting and ground-breaking.

3d to 2d back to 3d

In normal video communication, our 3d self is digitalised and flattened to be ‘distributed’ as a 2d image. The hologram format re-humanises this 2d self. Creating the perception of a 3d presence. This is the re-3d-ing of the 2d self. In a video lesson, students may be sitting behind a computer or viewing from their smartphone. The 2d flat screen image of the lecturer removes an element of our humanness. But with a hologram presence appearing life size before students, it seems like there is an intensified level of 3d engagement. It is just much more real.

Live or recorded

Several presenters at different locations can appear live as holograms with synchronous audience interaction. Or be pre-recorded and shown multiple times. An expert can present with a green screen so that animations can be added in post-production. The equipment is all standard, off the shelf, and rented from local suppliers. Currently the lecturer needs to go to one of the capture studios, as I did. Or run their own studio with projection equipment and software.

Conferences, Medicine and Music

There are opportunities for international conferences to bring in hologram guests in the future. Another area leading the development of holograms is medicine. With private funding you can have a top medical expert consultation. Either you or the expert can be the hologram. This decreases our carbon footprint, saves travel time and allows an expert to give consultations at different geographic locations in one day. Musicians at different locations have performed live on stage together. Or are recreated posthumously as holograms entertainers.

Hologram Universities and the future of Higher Education

In my discussion with Brandon, I asked a number of questions about possible educational uses. For a regular lecture in a classroom with standard content, I don’t yet see the added value of the hologram lecturer. Assistance is needed in the set-up and capture studio. Sufficient bandwidth is required. Students come to higher education to learn in a social context. Keeping that social contact is essential and ensuring the added value of excellent classroom interaction is essential. Holograms are not yet ready to replace all face-to-face teaching.

However, I can see potential benefits in being able to get the scarce resource of a renowned expert to engage students in different locations around the world. And the live and interactive format means there can be a Q and A with the expert. A discussion that feels like a personal encounter. Getting the sense of being close to an expert increases the attention and involvement of the learner. The technology presents a lifelike image that intensifies the human interaction. This can help innovative schools such as those teaching business, engineering and medicine. Researchers are looking into the impact on retention when learning from a hologram rather than a standard video. And a lightweight and portable projection system is being developed. Combined with the advent of 5G, it is hoped this can enable hologram lessons to be presented at more locations.

Beam me up

At the end of my session, I was beamed up. The cool visual effect and sound adds to the whole experience. It supports the sense of presence that the individual was actually there but has been magically ‘beamed-back’ to another distant location. 

When I returned to the ‘real world’ things had changed. I had to think twice. Were my fellow humans real? Or projected hologram images? That ‘double take’ made me reflect even more deeply on the importance and true qualities of live face-to-face interaction!

Make sure to view Zac in action as a hologram, in discussion with his colleague Brandon.

Written by Zac Woolfitt for OEB 2020.



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