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Tests of augmented reality device ‘HoloLens’ show promise at the University of Delaware

Margalit Schindler wears the HoloLens to hone in on a scratched painting, while Morrigan Kelley holds a magnifying class to enhance the picture..jpg
Rachel Sawicki
Margalit Schindler wears the HoloLens to hone in on a scratched painting, while Morrigan Kelley holds a magnifying glass to enhance the picture

Faculty at the University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation are using a new piece of so-called "mixed reality" technology called ‘HoloLens.’

They describe it as augmented reality, but with more features and the potential to not only help people with mobility issues and other disabilities, but make collaboration in art conservation and many other sectors seamless.

Delaware Public Media’s Rachel Sawicki recently joined Joelle Wickens – Associate Director of the UD Program in Art Conservation and an Assistant Professor of Preventive Conservation – and her team in the field to learn about HoloLens and its potential.

The coronavirus pandemic sent many fields into the virtual world – as people were unable, for a time, to meet in person safely.

Now, tech originally used for safety is having an impact on fields like art conservation.

University of Delaware professor Joelle Wickens can’t access the upper floors of the Rockwood Museum from her wheelchair. Now, she can see it through the eyes of her students thanks to Hololens.

“They would like, carry me in my wheelchair up a couple of stairs to get into the house, but then I could never get upstairs to a lot of the other places and I realized that this would be an opportunity for me to be able to see those things,” Wickens says.

Hololens is a virtual headset that projects what the wearer sees back to a monitor, in this case, Wickens’ laptop. She and some of her students like Margalit Schindler have big ideas for the tech.

“I think this is a tool that a lot of smaller institutions that don’t have a conservator on staff or are out in the boonies and might not have the resources of a metropolitan area could definitely benefit from something like this too," Schindler says.

A better connection will come with a better picture, and Wickens says a camera with a higher resolution could make the tech a game changer for her field and others. She has ideas to use the tech rather than sending people for art preservation surveys and exhibitions. She says it could also aid in distance learning.

Wickens and her team are working with UD’s Information Technology department to work out the glitches, but even with those hurdles - they already see the game-changing impact this virtual tech is having.

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Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.