Silicon Valley visionaries bring mesmerizing exhibit to life with technology

Several years ago, John and Ann Doerr attended the well-known Body Worlds traveling exhibit at The Tech. The mesmerizing sight of plastinated human bodies filled them with a sense of wonder. “It’s a journey into the secrets of life that is awe-inspiring,” recalled John Doerr, chairman of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

That lasting memory planted the seed of an idea. The Doerrs, who are one of Silicon Valley’s power couples, wondered if technology could make Body Worlds even more profound by transforming a static exhibit into an interactive experience.

Imagine if next to a plastinated figure you could see a 3D animation of a beating heart? Lungs expanding and contracting? The intricate features of a human eye? Explore the marvels of the brain? What if … Body Worlds could be brought to life?

Well, imagine no more.

Body Worlds Decoded makes its debut at The Tech on Sunday, Oct. 15, supported by a $5 million donation from the Doerrs. Simply put, visitors will be able to see and explore the human body like never before. That’s because this groundbreaking museum experience melds a world-class anatomical collection with cutting-edge augmented reality technology.

“This is going to be the best experience of the magic and mysteries inside the human body in the world, period,” said John Doerr, the visionary venture capitalist who has helped guide some of tech’s most iconic companies, including Amazon and Google. “This is going to be a great book that you read over and over again. It won’t be a movie that you just see once. This goes right to the heart of who we are as humans.”

It begins with the striking Body Worlds exhibit, which has drawn more than 44 million visitors worldwide since 1995, including during two stops at The Tech. Donated human bodies have been preserved through a “plastination” process that replaces water and fat with plastic materials. But what transforms an already powerful attraction into something revolutionary is the overlay of augmented reality.

Visitors will check out an Iris — a phablet, which is a device larger than a cellphone but smaller than a tablet — and will be directed by indicators on the screen to hotspots where virtual exhibits are located. By holding up Iris, a 3D-scanning camera captures the real world in front of you while displaying an animated body system that is essentially floating in space. As you “see” that beating heart, more information will pop up on the screen.

The Tech worked with Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future to create a custom AR authoring platform that makes it fairly simple to create content for new visitor experiences.

“The Tech is about to become the leader in this whole new world of immersive technology,” said Toshi Anders Hoo, the lead AR consultant who is also the director of the Emerging Media Lab at the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley nonprofit that helps organizations think systematically about the future. “No one has ever done this before. This is a major paradigm shift in education, computing and media. The Tech has stepped forward as a leader in this movement.”

The exhibition couldn’t have happened without the Doerrs and their commitment to educational causes.

“There is a reverence when you go into Body Worlds, because you know you’re seeing humans who chose to further our understanding of the body,” Ann Doerr said. “Now the augmented reality technology allows you to see between the layers of tissue in a way that you could never do previously and explore even deeper.”

Tim Ritchie, president and CEO of The Tech, said this exhibit will help the community understand the human body more deeply.

“The ability of augmented reality to inspire the next generation about medicine and physiology — and just to understand the body — is very powerful. This will be Northern California’s most exciting anatomy experience,” Ritchie said.

That’s why in addition to affording a look inside the body, this also will be a glimpse into the future.

Body Worlds Decoded opens Sunday, Oct. 15. For more information, visit thetech.org/bodyworldsdecoded.