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

 
 

Kyle Judah is executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Lilie

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Another priority Judah has leading Lilie, which was founded at Rice in 2015, is to make sure opportunities are available for everyone. This month, the university launched the Rice Experiment Fund — a $500 semesterly stipend available to all students. The funds are meant to be used on early market testing and experiments, which can be prohibitive obstacles for students.

"We want to make sure that the diversity of entrepreneurship at Rice speaks to the diversity of the city in our backyard," says Judah, adding that diversity and inclusion is at the top of mind for programs like this.

Judah shares more on where he plans to lead Lilie and his early impressions on Houston's startup scene in the podcast episode. Overall, he's found it extremely welcoming.

"I found that everyone here wants Houston to win," he says. "We're really playing as a broader collective, and that's incredibly special."

You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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