What will the future of higher education look like? It’s a question Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) asked itself in 2013 under the leadership of President Barbara Snyder and one that professor Mark Griswold and Erin Henninger of CWRU’s Interactive Commons went to work on.
Envisioning the future of education literally involves looking through a new lens — specifically a Microsoft HoloLens — where virtual objects enter the real world in mixed reality. Mixed reality goes beyond virtual and augmented reality by creating a fully immersive environment with virtual objects overlaid into real space. Instead of bumping into walls while wearing glasses that obstruct real-world view, mixed reality participants can see their real environment while holographic images enter their view through the HoloLens.
Mixed reality also allows participants to interact with the virtual objects that enter their space. What does this mean for everyday life? Imagine fixing the plumbing of your house and having a virtual assistant guide you around the pipes or opening the hood of your car and seeing virtual engine parts to show you how to fix what’s broken.
Welcome to alternative reality 3.0 where the do-it-yourself home improvement warrior just got smarter with a blueprint in real time and space that goes beyond the complicated instruction manual.
In the professional services world, the possibilities are endless, from architecture to interior design to hanging dry wall where a virtual assistant is just a HoloLens away. What’s the cost of the HoloLens? A Windows Mixed Reality VR Headset HoloLens 2 is priced at around $3,000.
Like all things in technology, the hardware is only as good as the software designed for it. Throughout the research labs, lecture halls and common spaces of Case Western Reserve University, banners carry the slogan “Think Beyond the Possible.”
The interdisciplinary university research and innovation center on the north campus of CWRU known as Interactive Commons puts those words to action. While rethinking what the university of the future would look like, Griswold and Henninger had a “moonshot” opportunity to transform education with the planned opening of the CWRU/Cleveland Clinic Health Education Center.
During a roughly five-year window, they partnered with Microsoft on HoloAnatomy, a project that would transform how medical students learned. Moving light years beyond textbooks and cadavers, they collaborated with a team of research scientists from the medical, engineering and computer science faculty to develop a digital hologram of the human body that students could use the immerse Microsoft HoloLens to interact with and connect with other students and faculty.
Showcasing their application at the World Economic Forum and the Consumer Electronics Show, their HoloAnatomy App also won an award at the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards for Immersive and Virtual Reality. From a subterranean research lab just off Euclid Avenue, CWRU’s Interactive Commons is putting Cleveland innovation on the map. In 2016, CWRU and Cleveland Clinic were two partners of 12 on stage alongside organizations like Disney when Microsoft debuted its HoloLens applications.
Then, in 2019, came the really big application when the CWRU Health Education Campus opened on the campus of Cleveland Clinic. This $515 million facility hosts the schools of medicine, nursing and dentistry and is as much a technology center as it is a medical school campus. The state-of-the-art Norman Foster designed Health Education Center is an emergent global attraction bringing more than 4,000 students from all over the world to this 477,000-square-foot, 11-acre campus on the HealthLine. This health education hub has the power to be the center of an innovation hub on the HealthTech Corridor between University Circle and Midtown.
I recently walked into an empty room at the Health Education Center and asked where the instruction happens. “It’s all around you,” my guide said. “You just put on these HoloLens glasses, and you’ll see the future of health education.” And there it was — a fully mapped holographic image of the human body. This is the cutting edge of science and technology, and it’s how health care professionals are being trained here in Cleveland.
The interdisciplinary team at the Interactive Commons of Case Western Reserve University thought beyond the possible and are now at the frontier of endless industrial and scientific application. A century after inventive pioneers from Euclid Avenue in Cleveland led an innovation revolution, our city’s innovation future is bright again.
CHRIS RONAYNE is president of University Circle Inc. and chairman of the Port of Cleveland. He is the former Cleveland planning director.