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Microsoft’s HoloLens gains momentum from award-winning HoloAnatomy app

Case Western Reserve University said on Thursday the HoloAnatomy app for Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality (AR) headset landed first place for the immersive virtual reality and augmented reality category during the 2016 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival Science Media Awards competition. The app beat Google’s Tilt Brush that enables users to paint in 3D and the 20-minute film David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive that provides viewers with a 360-degree view of Australia’s landmark.

The HoloAnatomy app enables viewers to examine the organs of a body at their own pace and from any perspective. This is a step up from dissecting dead tissue and viewing 2D illustrations in medical books, transforming medical education using a $3,000 AR-based headset. Microsoft’s device projects holographic objects into the user’s field of view, mixing virtual with physical and essentially enhancing our learning of the human body.

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For instance, using the HoloAnatomy app, viewers can walk around a holographic human body standing in the middle of the room with its arms spread out. The body does not have skin, allowing viewers to see the muscles, arteries, and veins. Step in a little closer and viewers can see the bones and organs underneath, depending on how close they move to the body. Thus, wearers can examine the heart, the lungs, the spine, and so on using footsteps.

“The HoloLens is absolutely the most amazing piece of technology,” said Mark Griswold, faculty director for Case Western Reserve’s Interactive Commons. “Within five seconds, they realize that the world had changed. It was immediate realization that this is something exciting and we have to be a part of this.”

Griswold leads the university’s overall use of the HoloLens AR headset. HoloAnatomy is the byproduct of a collaboration between his team and Microsoft, which began in 2014 before Microsoft revealed the headset to the public. As of now, Microsoft has no idea when HoloLens will be made available for public consumption, but the company recently opened the HoloLens doors to all developers and companies willing to shell out $3,000 per device.

The recent competition began with more than 500 entries from the likes of the BBC, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Game Lab, National Geographic, and more fighting for 25 awards. A panel of judges whittled those entries down to three to four finalists for each category. In the end, a smaller panel of five judges chose the individual winners of each category.

The HoloAnatomy app serves as a preview of what is to come in a full-fledged holographic anatomy curriculum slated for the new Health Education Campus in 2019. This campus is a collaboration between the university and the hospital to provide the latest in technology to educate students in the medical, dental, nursing, and allied health fields. Microsoft’s HoloLens will likely be a part of that.

“I am so proud of our team,” Griswold added during a gala celebration at the Harvard Art Museums. “This win is wonderful recognition for everyone involved in this project. It is also a testament to the power of mixed reality to engage and inspire learners in ways we only could have imagined previously.”