I started my engineering career on a drafting board in the late seventies before CAD programs were widely used. I recall the challenge of drawing objects in multiple perspectives.  I remember my calculus teacher asking me to imagine rotating a curve around an axis.  Today I visited the future of 3D learning and I’m excited about what’s in store for STEM students.

Zspace is an immersive, interactive 3D environment created by InfiniteZ, a five year old company in Mountain View (also home of Google and Khan Academy).

CEO Paul Kellenberger launched me on an amazing 3D field trip into Zspace, a beautiful 24 inch stereoscopic user interface.  After putting on the polarized passive 3D glasses I was able to examine machine parts in ultra-high realism—not just rotating but picking them off the screen and seemingly putting them right in front of my nose for up close inspection.  I toured levels of a building in extraordinary detail.  With a laser stylus, I was able to dissect a robotic arm.  With a movable camera, I could view any aspect of any environment from any angle.  I sent the camera careening around a virtual environment and watched the movie it created.

The implications for design and learning are immediately obvious, but Zspace is a platform—a hardware, software, and interface bundle—not yet a giant content library.  InfiniteZ is beginning to form content partnerships and today works with objects created in many CAD applications including Autodesk Maya.  There’s a developer’s zSpace software development kit (SDK) and a growing list of supported applications.

These workstations will be pricy for a while, so Zspace is not an education 1:1 solution just yet.  But every young person needs to experience an immersive design and learning space like this.  These workstations should be in high school and college STEM labs and public libraries.  Virtual dissections, field trips, and design projects must be part of every high school experience.  Virtual environments like Zspace build the confidence of creators, fearlessness of experimenters, and conceptual understanding of calculators.

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