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The Biggest AR Company You’ve Never Heard Of

At the huge International Science and Technology Education (ISTE) show in Chicago’s massive McCormick Place Convention Center, zSpace, the leading AR company in education, will unveil its new laptop and join its successful all-in-one as the AR system of choice for augmented K-12 education. zSpace was named “Best in Show at ISTE” by Tech & Learning Magazine for three consecutive years.

Students can share the view of the content in AR end-to-end solution from zSpace.

zSpace is little known outside educational market, but inside it’s the leading brand in AR. The education applications for AR are numerous, but are notoriously difficult to monetize through the app store. Inside the school districts themselves, zSpace is preferred to HMD solutions because of its ease of use, screen sharing, and deep content library. zSpace is in over 800 school districts in North America, serving over 1 million student users.

Students don a simple pair of lightweight glasses that transform items into dynamic 3D objects. The “mouse” is a 6 degree of freedom stylus, which allows students to pick up and move items off the screen. The way it works is that students wear light polarizing glasses, similar to the 3D shades you get in the movie theater. These glasses are studded with tiny reflectors, which allow them to be tracked by the three cameras above the screen. In this way, many students can share the same screen, seeing it simultaneously but from different perspectives.

The new zSpace laptop can go anywhere and help any business with 3D visualization.

The laptop itself is made by the same Chinese manufacturer that makes Dell and Lenovo computers, except it, like the all-in-one, has a polarization switch and tracking system, so it can go AR, and users, wearing the polarization glasses, can go with them. A fully functional Windows laptop, students can also use the mobile zSpace laptop to explore the internet, complete classwork assignments, take online assessments or any other activities that they would use a computer for at school.

“When students put on a VR headset and take a field trip or explore human anatomy, they are having an individual experience. It doesn’t encourage making connections, creativity or collaboration. zSpace was created specifically for learners, creating a shared AR/VR learning environment,” said Paul Kellenberger, CEO, zSpace. Unlike other virtual reality solutions, such as head-mounted displays, that can be isolating, zSpace empowers students to work in groups. Plus, there is no more worry about the material costs or smell of formaldehyde frogs traditionally used to teach subjects like biology.

Paul Kellenberger, Co-Founder and CEO of zSpace.

“We introduced the zSpace virtual reality experience at the elementary, middle and high school levels three years ago. Schools have supported their STEAM, core academic and Career and Technical Education programs by integrating the all-in-one zSpace hardware and software solution. The laptop will give us additional flexibility as we determine our implementation models throughout Atlanta Public Schools,” said Aleigha Henderson-Rosser, Ed.D., director of instructional technology at Atlanta Public Schools.

Students at Buffalo Public School District in New York are starting their third year learning with zSpace, now in over 15 district schools, with a plan to be in all schools in the district by the end of next year. “Bringing AR to the laptop gives our students the ability to learn in a more flexible virtual environment as well as to complete traditional laptop work,” said Sanjay Gilani, chief technology officer, Buffalo Public Schools.

zSpace was founded as Infinite Z in 2006. Infinite Z’s virtual-holographic platform, the zSpace, was created with backing from the Central Intelligence Agency’s In-Q-Tel fund, which invests in technology startups. Infinite Z formally changed its name to zSpace in 2007. The idea was to be able to represent data in three dimensions in a simple and intuitive way. The team of Paul Kellenberger, Mike Harper, and Ron Rheinheimer, had previously worked together at Chancery, a web-based tool school districts use to manage records, report cards, and other relevant data into a single plug and play system. It was acquired by Pearson in 2006. When it came time to pivot from defense, the team attacked the education vertical which they knew was full of potential. zSpace for Education allows users to manipulate an array of virtual, 3D objects including building circuitry and experimenting with gravity. zSpace offers its client classrooms more than 250 STEAM (science, technology, art and math) lesson plans aligned to the Common core, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and other state standards for K-12 education. zSpace enables 3D printing and also partnered with Google to combine zSpace’s AR technology with the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program.

“We see so much opportunity for this system beyond education. Design, gaming, advertising, architecture, to name a few. Success in education is going to enable us to pursue those verticals and, potentially, the home as well, especially with a portable laptop product,” Kellenberger said. The zSpace uses a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service software solution, which offers its installed base AR modules for every subject in the curriculum. In order to access the library and receive updated and new content, the schools pay a per-seat annual licensing fee. The holy grail of software services is recurring revenue. As a result, the company has not had trouble raising money. (Note to investors, Kellenberger says he is “always” raising money.) “I think it’s fair to say that with the introduction of the new zSpace laptop we’ve hit an inflection point that could see us soon pursuing verticals outside education.”

A recent survey of teachers using zSpace with their students demonstrated their belief in the power of AR/VR to transform learning. Nearly 100 percent of teachers surveyed said that using AR/VR allows them to expose their students to things that would otherwise be impossible. The company says that vocational training courses in high schools and community colleges are using the system for teaching mechanics, welding and healthcare specialties.

There are many modes of Augmented Reality, mobile AR on smartphones being the newest, along with head-mounted displays like the Microsoft HoloLens, and the unsexy but incredibly popular (in enterprise) monocular microdisplay. To this, we must add the multi-user polarizing AR of zSpace, which is totally unique and has 40 patents to prove it.

Using zSpace is simple an intuitive.

“People love working with zSpace so much they always ask us how they can have one at home. With this affordable new laptop [sic: final price not disclosed], someday soon they might be able to. We get requests from the schools we work with every day,” said Kellenberger.

This post was originally featured on Forbes.com on June 25, 2018

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