UT Austin business class beams in 3D hologram of professor

(McCombs School of Business)

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To improve safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, a business class at the University of Texas, Austin, has adopted new technology that allows the professor to beam a 3D hologram of himself directly into the classroom.

The university’s McCombs School of Business announced Thursday it’s contracted with the Austin-based technology startup Contextual Context Group to develop the system, which combines green-screen technology, large flat-screen monitors, studio lighting, high-resolution “immersive” video cameras and a control panel in a broadcasting studio. Accounting professor Steve Limberg uses the equipment to beam a 3D hologram of his full body into a classroom, where students are spread out to meet social-distancing requirements, and to students attending the class via Zoom.

“Our goal is to keep the professor safe, greatly enhance the in-classroom socially distanced experience and also greatly enhance the online virtual experience as well,” Jim Spencer, the company’s chief executive, said in a video posted to the business school’s YouTube channel. 

The studio from which the professor broadcasts is located on the campus’ IC2 Institute, described by the university as a “think-and-do tank” to advance technology commercialization, entrepreneurship and “innovative education.” Administrators at the business school said they believe the combination of these technologies make for a more engaging education experience that could be replicated in other classes and schools at the university.

“We knew we could make the digital experience better,” Joe Stephens, senior assistant dean and director of working professional and executive MBA programs, told UT News. “Enterprise, tenacity, curiosity and authenticity are the pillars of what we do at McCombs, and we’re doing all those things right now. We teach our students to innovate, and we’re practicing what we preach. That’s what innovation and the world of business is all about.”

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