An uncommon experience

In April I had the opportunity to visit the Case Western Reserve University Interactive Commons in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and experience Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens headset.


I’m standing before a life-sized human body, the flayed form displaying detailed male musculature. “Notice how you’re all respecting the presence of the hologram,” CWRU Interactive Commons director Mark Griswold says to our group of geeky gawkers as we mill about the periphery. “Holograms are people, too,” I reply.

“Don’t be afraid to get close,” Mark encourages. I reach out to touch the holographic form, inadvertently make the “quit” gesture, and promptly crash the entire program.

The tech team has us up and running again in minutes. Taking no chances this time, I stick my head into our holographic friend. Layers of anatomical topology melt away as I peruse his insides. I realize that how cool I feel is inversely proportional to how stupid I look.

With a flick of my finger, the holographic muscles and viscera dissolve to reveal the underlying skeleton, cuing a narrator to share something noteworthy about skeletons. Next, a detailed model of the inner-most structures of the human brain floats before our eyes like a Zaha Hadid design on steroids. “Amazing, isn’t it,” asks Mark, rhetorically. Indeed.


Led by Dr. Griswold and executive director Erin Henninger, Case Western Reserve University’s Interactive Commons facilitates cutting-edge cross-functional collaborations that harness technology to gather, process, visualize and exchange information in ways that foster understanding. The centerpiece of the CWRU IC is a Microsoft HoloLens lab, featuring an array mixed-reality holographic headsets, and some pretty compelling tech.

Microsoft is currently developing authoring tools for the holographic space, with the creative applications literally limited only to the imagination. New visual and narrative forms are emerging, and we appear headed towards the creation of what are being called “mind events”: truly conceptual experiences.

Following the HoloLens demo, a discussion on immersive media with CWRU IC directors and colleagues from The Cleveland Institute of Art ranges from CLOUDS OVER SIDRA director’s Chris Milk’s TED talk on VR as the “ultimate empathy machine” to Microsoft Research’s holoportation demo: featuring a virtual “interaction” between a researcher and his young daughter with fascinating (and somewhat disturbing) social implications.

I ask if anyone in the room has been outdoors with the HoloLens. No one has, and there is some doubt as to how the holographic headset will perform in sunlight. So naturally, I suggest a nighttime trial. šŸ™‚ Technologist Chad Carter puts the question to rest a month later.


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