Monday, July 25, 2016

A Day with the zSpace Tour Bus. Educational VR/AR Thingy

A few months back I was working with our school Instructional Tech Teacher and we noticed that the company zSpace had launched a western coast tour to show off their technology.  We were lucky enough to get a visit to our school one afternoon and the technology was interesting to say the least.  I hadn't heard much in the news about their system and so I quickly did a little bit of online scrounging to learn a few things about what they had going on.

zSpace Tour Bus

The bus was actually more of a pimped out RV that had been fitted with 15 or so stations so that even my huge classes could pack in and test out the system with a partner.  The group of guys running the experience were extremely accommodating and super excited about what they were doing. My kids loved the experience and were disappointed when the demo was over and I had to drag them back to the classroom.

What makes zSpace so unique?

zSpace has actually been around for quite a while.  They have a much different take on virtual reality than some of the other players out there right now.  Instead of strapping on a HMD or even using a mobile device like we see with most AR, zSpace uses a proprietary desktop PC for their system.  By donning a pair of positionally tracked glasses and manipulating a stylus that is also tracked in 3 dimensions, the images on the screen come to life.  Think of something akin to a really precise wii remote with a 3D display for education.

zSpace's Software

Perhaps the most compelling part of the zSpace system is their software.  Given that the company has been around for a while, its no surprise that they seem to have a head start on some of the competition.  Educational company Lifeliqe has recently received quite a bit of media attention for partnering with HTC Vive to create 3D educational models for demonstration in the classroom.  My experience was that zSpace has already accomplished this same exact thing.  I was able to dissect animals and organs and even a running V8 engine using their software.  Even more impressive to me was their set of physics tools that allowed the user to perform simple experiments while tweaking settings such as gravity and friction of surfaces.  It really did have some great educational applications.

The Catch?

The entire zSpace hardware/software package is completely proprietary.  I kept thinking while running through the demos just how cool it would be to get this all into a true VR experience.  While it isn't currently possible, I would love to see the zSpace software open up to be used on more hardware.  With some of the stunning experiences being had on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, I think that zSpaces software would be a natural fit.  I definitely loved how far they have come in terms of an extremely interactive, outstandingly educational set of software and simulations.  Check out another post about educational simulations in VR if you're interested.

Ever used zSpace in the classroom?  Weigh in with thoughts and experiences in the comments section.