AR/VR is changing education. In our TLOE series, this interview delves into the trends and the white spaces.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself and to zSpace.
Paul Kellenberger: I’m the CEO of zSpace. zSpace is a very innovative technology company that has been in the market and focused on education for the last six and a half years. We’re a unique combination of augmented reality and virtual reality.
Unlike the head-mounted virtual reality goggles, we are a screen-based or display-based solution that gives you an augmented experience. Today, we have a few different versions of our product. It has a bigger form factor all in one. Think of it as an iMac with this augmented reality experience.
We have another product that is newer. It has a laptop form factor. It also has this unique augmented reality experience. The hardware is proprietary to zSpace. It’s really the enabler. The content is what really brings it alive. About six years ago, we initially focused on education – on the K-12 market.
We built a number of STEM-focused applications on our own. Subsequent to that, we recruited a number of third-party developers. Think of zSpace as a developer platform. For the most part, we use the Unity development engine which is the de facto standard in the AR/VR market.
Over the course of the last six years, we built the business to the point where we’re in about 2,000 school districts across the United States. That’s a little over 25,000 schools. We’re in about a thousand school systems in China. We continue to grow our footprint across the United States.
The real value of zSpace is engagement. It is a very interesting way for kids to learn. Experiential learning has been proven to increase both student engagement in those specific subjects they’re working on and result in better grade scores. Students, both adult or K-12, retain information and grades increase with that learn-by-doing approach. That’s top level.
Our business continues to grow very nicely. We do business globally and have a number of other partners outside the US and China. One of the key trends that’s going on in the market is career technical education (CTE). Trades like automotive mechanics, welding, and veterinarian are growing very rapidly, and a number of new developers and new players have created new opportunities.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s do some use cases of types of curriculum that you apply your AR/VR platforms to. Walk us through some examples.
Paul Kellenberger: There are many different use cases. Let me give you an example within the science realm. Take biology. If you go back to one of the original ones where kids are dissecting a frog, you could virtually dissect the frog and learn about the frog without any of the experience of cutting up a dead frog.
Another example is, you can do virtual chemistry experiments without running the risk of creating some kind of a hazard. Another one in the vocational or career technical education side is, you are an automotive mechanic, you can virtually learn about how the engine works. We have many different use cases that I would put in the category that are extremely compelling.
Sramana Mitra: Interesting. You haven’t mentioned anything about medical schools. Medical school comes to mind from your frog dissection example.
Paul Kellenberger: There are many medical universities across the United States that are using zSpace. I’ll give you an example of an application. It was not developed by zSpace. A third-party developed it. It’s called Visible Body.
This application has the entire human anatomy. It is anatomically correct. It’s used to teach both upper-level high school, colleges, as well as medical universities.
As a company with our own resources, we’ve been very focused on K-12 initially. We expanded to China a few years ago and then the CTE vocational market. Then, we expanded through other partners. We have a number of medical applications. We also have some other partners that are focused on other areas like manufacturing deeper medical applications where there are other use cases.