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Virtual reality

When disaster strikes, HoloLens virtual reality app could recreate the past

An app Thomson Reuters engineers developed for Microsoft's HoloLens creates a virtual reality reconstruction of an incident scene. It may help in humanitarian, disaster relief and anti-terrorism contexts.

Virtual reality often depicts worlds of fantasy or imagination, but a new app uses it for a more serious – and much more important – purpose.

The app, developed by teams of engineers at Thomson Reuters, uses Microsoft’s HoloLens, a “self-contained, holographic computer,” to create a virtual reality reconstruction of what a landscape looked like just before disaster struck, with the aim of getting help to those in distress as quickly as possible. Although it’s just a prototype, the potential uses seem abundant.

Time is of the essence

The faster first responders can reconstruct what a situation looked like just before a terrorist attack or natural disaster, the faster they can aid those impacted by the event. More and better information also means they can attend to those most in need first.

For trauma victims, time is critical; if a patient reaches definitive care within “The Golden Hour,” his or her chances of survival are vastly improved.

Time is also of the essence in a justice context. The more quickly law enforcement officers can gather clues from anything that seemed unusual or out of place, the more quickly they can move to apprehend suspects.

A mock-up of the holographic incident scene generated Thomson Reuters’ HoloLens app.

Recreating the past

Visualizing what a scene looked like before impact has always required a substantial dose of imagination, but the HoloLens app uses virtual reality to make the process easier, more reliable and more accurate.

The app generates 3D, holographic models of incident sites. After law enforcement members gather photos or video of the scene before the incident and enter them, the app geo-locates that footage into the 3D model. The result is a virtual reality reconstruction of the area with accurately positioned photos and video. The reconstruction can then be used to visualize the chain of events that led to the incident.

“It’s really useful for any sort of command center,” said James Cross, a senior software engineer based in London who worked on the project. “Previously, it was difficult to take all the footage that had been collected and present it in a way that put together a complete picture. There just wasn’t an easy way to do that.”

Furthermore, the 3D model can be viewed by multiple people at once, making collaboration easier.

The team that developed the app expects it to be useful in humanitarian, disaster response and law enforcement contexts.

“We’re really excited by the potential for this app,” Cross said. “We think there’s a lot of good it can do.”

The application is the second Thomson Reuters has developed for HoloLens. The first application presented Power Curve in an augmented reality environment.

Learn more

Our Cognitive Computing Center of Excellence focuses on exploring the rapidly developing field of cognitive computing and machine intelligence. Learn more about how cognitive computing is transforming knowledge work.