In-person and virtual speakers at event, Imperial College

Imperial College Business School introduces ‘holographic’ lectures

Image credit: Imperial College London

Imperial College Business School is to become the first higher education institution to deliver live lectures using projected ‘holograms’.

Recently, technology companies have developed sophisticated new takes on the classic ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ illusion, which uses light and mirrors to project an image onto a reflective and transparent surface (such as glass or stretched film) set at an angle above a stage. This allows for the creation of large, hyper-realistic projections which appear holographic. Famously, this technique was for posthumously performances by deceased musicians, including Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson, as well as allowing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address voters at multiple rallies simultaneously during the 2014 election.

In October, it was announced that a similar ‘holographic’ projection of deceased British singer Amy Winehouse was being prepared for an international tour in 2019.

However, Toronto-based telepresence company AHRT Media claims to be shifting away from the old technique of Pepper's Ghost to an alternative approach to creating holographic images which appear more three-dimensional, as well as being more cost-effective.

With the introduction of this technology to a higher education setting, Imperial College Business School students sitting in South Kensington lectures theatres will be connected with lecturers speaking from studios in the US, Canada and Singapore. The life-sized holographic images will be transmitted and projected live to lecture theatres, rather than being pre-recorded (as is often the case with this technology). This will allow the lecturers and guest speakers to engage with their audiences, such as by taking questions via live video link.

“Introducing hologram technology to the classroom will break down the limitations of traditional teaching by creating an interactive experience that benefits both the students and academics,” said Dr David Lefevre, director of Imperial College Business School’s Edtech lab, which adapted AHRT’s technology. “Rather than replacing or reducing real-life lectures, the hologram technology will provide greater flexibility for academics by enabling then to continue teaching whilst travelling, ensuring consistency and quality for students. The technology will also widen the scope for Imperial to invite global leaders and influencers from industry to give talks to students, therefore enriching the learning experience.”

Lefevre was unsure of the cost of the project, but told E&T that these holographic broadcasts were significantly cheaper than existing Pepper's Ghost-based systems, which can cost £150,000 for a single broadcast. He added that this technology allowed for far more engaging and immersive lectures than would be possible with standard video conferencing software.

The key differentiators are a great sense of the speaker being present and also the ability for the speaker to interact with the audience in a realistic manner,” he commented. The speaker sees a monitor which has been calibrated to accurately reflect the position of the audience. This means the speaker look members of the audience in the eye, gesture to them and so on.

The technology was first demonstrated at an event on Thursday evening focused on women in technology, which welcomed projections of speakers based in LA, New York and elsewhere in London. According to a statement, the technology will be used to teach business students during the 2018-19 academic year. It could also be used to carry out lectures with multiple audiences simultaneously, as well as enabling discussion panels and round-table events with a combination of present and virtual speakers: essentially a futuristic video conference

Virtual speaker at event, Imperial College

Imperial College London

Image credit: Imperial College London

“Investing in new technology is a vital part of our strategy to create more flexible and inspiring learning experiences for our students,” said Professor Francisco Veloso, dean of Imperial College Business School, in a statement. “Being part of Imperial College London, we are keen to grow our digital visibility as a business school and the new hologram represents the pioneering work our Edtech Lab is undertaking in this area.”

According to Lefevre, there was a possibility that this technology could be used by other schools at Imperial College as it becomes cheaper and easier to use.

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