The Recorder – Virtual reality a reality at GCC

Greenfield Community College (GCC) is looking to virtual reality when it comes to training its next generation of students.

“We see these simulators as the future of skill training,” Kristin Cole, vice president of workforce development, said at the virtual reality and robotics exposition on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

GCC is hoping to have zSpace in their classrooms soon. zSpace is a technology firm based in California that combines elements of virtual and augmented reality in a computer. The company works with schools across the country at a variety of levels to teach students hands-on skills without being in the actual space.

zSpace can help students interested in certain subject fields find the job that is right for them, explained Michael Carbenia, executive director of career and technical education for zSpace. He said people who are interested in becoming certified nursing assistants (CNA) can use zSpace to find their path. They can look at muscles, x-rays, or hearts all from their screen to see what workers in their field do, and from there they can make an informed decision about their careers.

“We want to fill the educational gap between interest and understanding a career,” Carbenia said.

High School students from Greenfield High School visited the virtual reality and robotics exposition on Wednesday. They played with the device to see what it would be like to have it in their classroom.

Students sat at a chair in front of a computer as a camera followed pen movements to move objects on a screen. The screen looks three dimensional when sitting in front of it, so students can feel like they are holding a heart, a chicken, or a lithium battery all from the device. This device does not require putting a headset on or covering a person’s eyes, something that people are often averse to, instead the device looks more like sitting at a laptop.

Aside from career exploration, the devices can be used to learn technical skills. Carbenia pointed to one lesson where students can take apart an HVAC system to learn how to repair them. He said “This is the industry standard now,” pointing to car companies that use virtual reality in their training.

GCC has applied for a grant from the Nation Science Foundation to bring zSpace to the college classrooms.

Also at the fair were Universal Robots. Universal Robots are small robot arms that can work in a production line collaboratively alongside people. To be fair the arm was demonstrating a pick and place function, but it can perform many functions from the computer touch screens. Unlike zSpace, this technology is mostly used in the industry but they are branching out with educational uses.

The motto of the company, said Nathan Desrochers, business development manager at Universal Robots, is “We want people to work with robots, not like robots.”

He explained GCC can teach classes training engineering students how to use robots like these, and the students will be ready for the industry working in manufacturing.

AET Lab is a company that connects new technology with colleges, universities, and schools across New England. They brought the two companies to the students during the exposition on Wednesday, and continue to work to bring new devices to classrooms to train students.

“There is a big gap in the skilled workforce,” Justin Turski, technology sales consultant at AET Labs, said. “We are doing the work to give kids the skills to be workforce ready.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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