At the University of Melbourne, augmented reality gives first-year students new ways to look inside the human body - no scalpel required.

As we edge towards a world where technology seamlessly integrates with humans, the University of Melbourne is finding new ways to create a more engaging classroom experience. Introducing augmented reality - or ‘AR’ - into the classroom has revolutionised student engagement and bridged the gap between theory and comprehension.

Interested in studying horticulture? What if you were able to cut a red gum in half and study the layers inside without hurting the tree? How about an interest in studying medicine? You could explore the human skeletal system in all its glory - and then go for coffee with your subject!

Last year's viral app phenomenon, Pokémon Go, might be ... well... gone, but the AR technology it used is set to have a huge impact on human life over the next decade.

The tech works by overlaying animated and virtual objects onto real-world surfaces. That’s how you were able to see Charizard breathing fire over your coffee table and Snorlax sitting on your TV. In the classroom, the applications are endless and incredibly valuable - especially for you!

‘The Augmented Studio’ uses tracking sensors and projections to “look inside” the human body. Video: Paul Burston & Sarah Fisher

By using tracking sensors mounted on a scaffold it projects images of our muscles and skeleton directly onto a volunteer. The images automatically follow the shape and movement of the body, giving students in the studio space an interactive all-round view of how our bodies work. It can even allow you and your teachers to “draw” on the projected image to make information and action more explicit.

The subject makes a T-shape with their arms which allows the tracking sensors to lock on. Photo: Supplied

The subject makes a T-shape with their arms which allows the tracking sensors to lock on. Photo: Supplied

“For first-year students, it can be really hard to bring together anatomical knowledge with how the body actually works because it can be difficult to visualise. But when they see a real person who they can interact with, while also seeing the muscles and skeleton projected over the top, combined with the ability to draw and write on the body, it all becomes much easier for the students to learn about how the body moves,” says Dr Kelly, from the Melbourne School of Health Sciences.

As an added benefit, the technology gives users a more visual and intuitive way of learning that Dr Kelly says will benefit students that naturally learn more easily by direct visualisation, rather than through reading and listening. “There has always been a group of students that struggle because the limited ways in which we have to teach may not conform to how they learn best,” he says.

Live movement and interaction allow students to better understand anatomical theory. Photo: Supplied

“It has always been hard to capture the dynamic side of how our anatomy works, so the difference here is the high level of interaction you can achieve. The student can, for example, ask the model to kick and they can then look at variations from different angles at what is happening as someone kicks,” Dr Kelly says.

The big advantage of the AR over advances like 3D holograms is that the students can actually touch and move the body, making it a much more interactive experience. You also don’t have to wear headgear, which means it could potentially be used in bigger settings with larger numbers of students.

The future is here now, so get ahead of the pack and experience innovation first-hand at the University of Melbourne. To stay up to date with the latest news about AR on campus, visit the noticeboard.

*This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Pursuit.

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