By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
The sun will come out tomorrow for sure, but there’s one other thing that will bring future light to Wyoming’s entrepreneurs.
It’s called zSpace, and the high-tech holographic system arrives at Laramie County Community College on Thursday, after an instructor won a $50,000 grant in a national competition to bring zSpace to the Advanced Manufacturing and Materials center.
Minden Fox wrote the grant for what will be the first zSpace in the Cowboy State. She picked a “Twilight Zone” theme to sell it during the recent national competition in Boston, even styling her outfit to fit with the television series.
The technology will dovetail with the college’s Concept Forge, envisioned as a place where student entrepreneurs can take their ideas and dreams and forge them into three-dimensional reality.
“The Concept Forge has a mix of creative tools like 3D printers in a couple of different varieties — metal 3D printers, resin 3D printers — and we’re bringing in a sublimation printer, a new laser etching machine, more sewing machines and soldering stations,” Fox told Cowboy State Daily. “(There’s also) Raspberry Pi systems, photography and a photography studio. I know I’m forgetting something, but those are kind of the big fun things that are coming.”
A Star Trek Holodeck On A Laptop
Photographs of zSpace in action show a student manipulating a floating, three-dimensional engine and all of its parts, moving them around with a stylus.
The student can slice into the engine to peer inside it, or even “explode” it. That is, blow out the engine into all its individual components to interact with each part and see how it functions in the whole design.
There also are images showing students similarly slicing into a heart to see inside it and learn how it functions inside the human body.
Applications are endless, Fox said.
“Their software has the potential to cater to pretty much every single program on campus,” she said. “To give them an augmented reality setup to help students learn and experience things that they might not have been able to see, where we might have to say, ‘This is how this system works even though you can’t see it.’”
Art, STEM, agriculture, health — even something as abstract as math — there’s likely already an application for it in zSpace to help take student learning to a new dimension.
“It’s not just about starting small businesses,” Fox added. “It’s about that mindset as a whole and becoming a stronger employee for wherever you go.”
A New Way To Prototype
But a big part of zSpace and the Concept Forge is helping students develop their entrepreneurial ideas into reality.
With zSpace, students can run simulations of their prototypes, refining them in three dimensions before sending a finished design to a 3D printer.
Typically, inventors might have to build several iterations of a prototype to get one that really works. Using zSpace can help cut down the expense of the process, waste fewer materials and help advance the idea more quickly.
“It helps people do this a little bit smarter,” Fox said. “Instead of rushing to put out the first iteration, they can use something like this to make sure that they’ve looked at it from all angles.”
Part Of A Greater Whole
Both the Concept Forge and zSpace are part of an overall Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Center that’s being set up at LCCC in Cheyenne through a combination of state grants and a local sixth penny tax initiative approved recently by voters.
“The Concept Forge specifically, that’s where the governor’s money was set aside to help build more creative spaces for entrepreneurs,” Fox said. “We thought this would be a great space to kind of combine with the manufacturing center, because they kind of go together and saying, ‘Hey, let’s help you make an idea reality. Let’s help you develop prototypes.’
“And then let’s take it a step further and say, ‘Hey, let’s get into manufacturing and look at what it’s going to take to large-scale manufacture this idea.”
The timeline calls for opening the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Center in the spring, although Fox hopes to have an open house during National Entrepreneurship week in February for people to experience what’s ahead for the program.
Initially, the Concept Forge will only be for students, but eventually Fox hopes to open a website for reservations to the general public so that any entrepreneur could use it to develop prototypes.
“We have a great tax environment (for entrepreneurs),” Fox said. Wyoming is “also really capitalizing on the entrepreneurial trend right now, and trying to provide people with what they need, whether it be classes or incubation space.
“We’re working on funding opportunities. There’s a lot going on right now, and we like knowing that we’re right there at the forefront of it all.”
LCCC is not stopping with augmented reality like zSpace, however. Fox and her counterpart, Dave Curry, director of the Advanced Manufacturing and Material Center, also are exploring the potential for full virtual reality systems as part of LCCC’s programming.
“So virtual reality, you may have seen some folks where they’re wearing a headset and they have goggles on,” Curry said. “So, when they are inside of that virtual world, they’re actually seeing it within the confines of the goggles that they’re wearing.”
Wearing VR goggles, a person can remotely connect to virtual reality rooms, interact with the people who are there and see whatever is taking place there.
Fox said they are at the stage now of asking different departments how they might use virtual reality if it were available. They’re also working with University of Wyoming on what kinds of curricula would need to be paired with virtual reality as they continue to grow their entrepreneurship programs.
Entrepreneurship Grows In The Cowboy State
Wyoming leads the nation in number of startups, and entrepreneurship at Laramie Community College has been growing of late by leaps and bounds.
Since Fox took over the program in 2017, enrollment in her entrepreneurship classes has grown 200%. With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why Wyoming is leading the nation in business startups.
“We are seeing more entrepreneurship across campus,” Fox said. “In our entrepreneurship classes, we’re seeing a lot of trade students.
“We’re seeing a lot of welders, and automotive students, but we’re also starting to see a growing number of health sciences, STEM, art students, and things like that.”