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In an effort to foster closer interactions and collaboration, CTMGH learned long ago to make the best of the plethora of communication tools available. In this era of video conferences, we are all familiar with the limitations of various 2D options. Could new technologies help us devise better communication to enhance collaboration and teaching opportunities? In an effort to find new solutions, a group of NDM staff visited London and interacted as a hologram with colleagues in Bangkok.

Ed Gibbs filmed in AHRT London studio, and beamed as a holograpm to Bangkok, as seen by David Burton

Working together on three continents was never going to be easy, and everybody at CTMGH is familiar with the advantages and limitations of various modes of communication. Over 40 years we have indeed seen quite a few changes and improvements! In person communication will remain the gold standard, but travel costs, carbon footprint and productivity lost in transit and jetlag require us to be more creative. 

In an effort to explore various options offered by new technologies, Professor Paul Newton led an investigation into holographic presentations to try to address some of the issues around effective communication. This led to teams from Oxford and Bangkok recently coming together remotely, in a new way.

Holographic technology uses a 3D photographic technique to project a lifelike image to an audience at another location without the use of 3D glasses. The person’s image, sound and data are sent to a server, encrypted and compressed, and transmitted to the partner station. The video feed is projected as an image onto a mesh painted with a highly reflective paint. The Canadian company AHRT media uses off-the-shelf capture studios and standard projection equipment to beam presenters. With a latency of 0.3sec, presenter and audience can interact in real time.

In addition to facilitating meetings, this technology is perfectly designed for teaching. Teachers and lecturers can be filmed at a location and beamed into another venue, interact with their students and answer questions as if they are in the same room.

There are a number of cost and space constraints to adopting this new technology but nevertheless, we sent a team to London and another one from Bangkok for a demonstration of holographic interactions

How does it look and feel?

Ed Gibbs, Claire-Lise Kessler and Benedikt Kessler in London first spoke with AHRT’s CEO Larry O’Reilly in Toronto. This conversation was extremely warm and relaxed. The hologram system enhanced the conversation and interaction, with the system fooling the brain into believing that the person is actually in the same room. The perception of eye contact is greatly enhanced, the lifesize nature of the interaction and the overall perception is a very different experience from those on 2D platforms.

Ed was then filmed in the capture studio, and beamed to Bangkok where he spoke with Nick Day, David Burton and Dean Sherwood

What advantages do new technologies offer?

There is an inherent conflict within the global health community between a wish for in-person meetings and the public health consequences of carbon emissions. In addition to carbon emissions, there is an impact on productivity due to the loss of work time and the fatigue from long hall travel. The COVID-19 pandemic has put this issue into even greater focus with the lockdown of many countries and the dramatic decline in passenger air travel, impeding in-person meetings.

Many issues still need to be resolved around this nascent technology, including how it translates into actual benefit for facilitating collaboration in comparison to 2D alternatives. It is however, and interesting technology and one that could support with the University’s carbon footprint reduction aims. Furthermore, such virtual systems could enhance links between units, save funds, increase work efficiency and could potentially provide a truly revolutionary tool to facilitate an expansion of remote teaching activity.