A new lab at the University of Central Missouri’s Lee’s Summit campus will aim to give students and local entrepreneurs a chance to explore what’s possible in the fields of virtual and augmented reality.
The launch for the Mixed Reality Studio in its Gigabit Lab is set for Global Entrepreneurship Week, which starts Nov. 16. Coronavirus concerns could delay or limit the public opening.
Money for the new equipment came through the MoExcels initiative from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development.
“This is all new. Before, there was no virtual reality or augmented reality equipment here,” said Joe Mullins, a consultant for the university’s Center for Workforce and Professional Education. “We are starting from scratch and trying to see where we can go with it.”
With virtual reality, once you put on the headset, everywhere you look is a created digital landscape. Augmented reality places digital objects within the real world and is perhaps most well-known through the app Pokémon GO.
Four workstations, each with its own headset, will access various platforms.
Mullins said students and faculty at the university will have free access to the lab, and professionals from the community will be able to buy time on the equipment. They’re still working out a fee structure.
The idea is for students to gain skills to create training programs and other materials using this equipment. That could mean creating a scenario where medical students work on a virtual patient or someone studying avionics could practice on a virtual engine before going to the real thing.
Mullins said he sees the lab as something that could benefit people across the metro area. Each piece of technology is expensive, and students and entrepreneurs alike might not otherwise have the means to access it.
Non-profit Velocity Lee’s Summit, which supports entrepreneurs, partnered with the university on the lab’s creation.
Jeff Danley, director of innovation and eSports at VMLY&R, got involved with the project through Velocity, which he helped found.
“Joe and I were both on the board of that, and Joe mentioned everything he was wanting to do with this Mixed Reality Lab and really trying to drive innovation at the Missouri Innovation Campus,” Danley said.
The composition of this lab is different than what Danley has seen available in his professional work, and he said the lab is the first of its kind in the Midwest.
“Typically when we see a lab like this, it’s specializing in one company’s technology, and what we’re bringing together with this lab is we’ve got all of the technologies — a lot of the top technology — in one place,” Danley said.
Like Mullins, he sees the lab as having a further reach beyond Lee’s Summit.
Danley is looking forward to seeing how students approach business and creative technology, “once they have access to this technology and see and understand what it can do.
“It’s going to be a really big win, not just for Lee’s Summit, but for the entire Kansas City region.”