September 29, 2023

Houston Community College celebrates grand opening of cutting-edge virtual reality lab

HOUSTON –  Houston Community College is celebrating the grand opening of its new virtual reality lab at the HCC West Loop campus.

While some colleges nationwide have virtual reality programs and courses, a much smaller number have dedicated VR labs.

“This puts us in an area where few other (educational) institutions have gone,” Sean Otmishi, dean of HCC Digital and Information Technology Center of Excellence, said. “We’re at the forefront. We are the global leaders.”

The $175,000 facility is a collaboration between HCC Southwest and MACE Virtual Labs, a Houston-based IT firm that provides Extended Reality (XR) hardware and software nationwide. The six-month project has converted the college’s former motion-capture lab into a virtual reality center with VR stations, flat-screen monitors, Telsasuits, VR headsets and motion-activated car driving simulators.

“Higher education has always been at the cutting edge of new technologies, driving development and creating the next generation of scientists, developers and entrepreneurs,” said HCC Chancellor Dr. Cesar Maldonado. “Virtual and augmented reality technologies are at the front of development right now and change is happening at a frenetic pace.”

Photo credit: Houston Community College

The new technology is also being embraced by industry as a cost-effective way to train employees who work in dangerous jobs, such as firefighters, electrical power line installers and repairers, aircraft pilots and flight engineers, and construction equipment operators.

Until recently, firefighters were required to undergo training at a live blaze that although controlled, was dangerous to their safety. In a VR training scenario, firefighters wear a full haptic feedback suit that allows them to feel heat sensation and resistance through the Telsasuit’s interface with their muscle groups in a safe environment.

“This is the equipment of the future,” said Josh Bankston, a partner in MACE Virtual Labs. “It makes really good sense, both philanthropically and businesswise, to create a partnership with HCC that puts this equipment in the hands of the students and the faculty which will benefit everyone, from education to the workforce and beyond.”

Dr. Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest, said the new lab is a plus not only for HCC but also the Houston-area business community.

“This VR lab brings to Houston companies access to the latest technology for professional development of their incumbent workers,” she said. “Through this partnership with MACE Labs, HCC can provide customized training using the latest VR technology available overseas until now.”

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