VR IRL

HCC unveils new virtual reality lab through partnership with Houston company

MACE Virtual Labs and Houston Community College teamed up to create a new virtual reality lab at the HCC West Loop campus. Photo via hccs.edu

Earlier this month, Houston Community College opened its new virtual reality lab at its HCC West Loop campus.

The new space comes from a partnership between HCC Southwest and Houston-based MACE Virtual Labs — an extended reality software company. The $175,000 facility boasts VR stations, flat-screen monitors, Telsasuits, VR headsets and motion-activated car driving simulators, according to a news release, and is a rare concept within higher education, says Sean Otmishi, dean of HCC Digital and Information Technology Center of Excellence, in the release.

"This puts us in an area where few other (educational) institutions have gone," Otmishi says. "We're at the forefront. We are the global leaders."

VR concepts are at the forefront of innovation, says HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado, and the technology is being used as a cheaper, safer training process.

"Higher education has always been at the cutting edge of new technologies, driving development and creating the next generation of scientists, developers and entrepreneurs," says Maldonado in the release. "Virtual and augmented reality technologies are at the front of development right now and change is happening at a frenetic pace."

The VR lab, which opened December 5, is not just a benefit to the school system, but it also represents a win for the greater Houston community — especially when it comes to this opportunity for training, says Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest, in the release.

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

MACE Virtual Labs, which is based just north of the Heights, was founded in 2017 and provides software and hardware for various VR purposes.

"This is the equipment of the future," says 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."

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Building Houston

 
 

Tudor Palaghita has advanced his startup, Camppedia, so that parents can have virtual and in-person activities for their kids this summer. Photo courtesy of Camppedia

This summer was supposed to be Houston-based Camppedia's breakout moment — a chance for CEO and Founder Tudor Palaghita to prove the company's value to its users. Palaghita is still getting to provide a much needed service to parents looking to enroll their children into enriching summer programs, but in a much different capacity thanks to COVID-19.

Camppedia — which Palaghita founded with his sister, Ana, in late 2018 — is an online marketplace that acts as a one-stop shop for parents looking for and managing local programming and activities for their kids. As the pandemic began to derail after school activities and summer plans, Palaghita quickly pivoted to provide essential needs like virtual offerings and connecting community members with new resources.

"If anything, the pandemic forced us to move a lot of things forward," Palaghita says about some of the key implementations he's made to the site. "The focus on the community was also something coming earlier than planned, but it was the most wonderful thing to come out of this. It really feels like everybody came together to give and to help each other."

Camppedia's business model is to give local camp and program providers — mostly small businesses, Palaghita says — a place to seamlessly reach parents. Now, these providers need Camppedia's platform more than ever as parents seek options a as they return to work or continue to look for at-home entertainment for their kids.

In order to better inform providers with what parents are looking for, Palaghita created a survey for parents to express what their concerns are, including when they are ready for in-person camps, what kind of safety measures they want to see, what are their thoughts on virtual programs are, and more.

"We're helping the community understand what parents think so that we can provide the best avenues and information and so providers can tune their programs to meet those needs," Palaghita says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Palaghita shares how he's managed throughout the pandemic and his plans for growing Camppedia throughout these challenges. Listen to the full interview with Palaghita below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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