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Tech Start-Up zSpace Suspends Reality with Software

Apr 01, 2013

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff | 04.01.2013 -- To see and seemingly hold a beating human heart is a powerful experience, to say the least, and one that previously belonged exclusively to a group of medical professionals. But 3-D technology achieves a whole new level and “wow” factor via a system developed by zSpace Inc., a Sunnyvale-based tech start-up that simulates natural interaction with virtual-holographic 3-D imagery.

Using a zSpace system monitor, a stylist tool and a pair of polarized, passive 3-D glasses, users can “grab” and move full-color and high-resolution objects from the screen into their open space with a laser that appears to emanate from the pen-sized stylist.

The technology was so compelling that Santa Barbara resident Bill Mason readily jumped aboard the zSpace train a year ago, when approached by investors to assist in business development of the now 6-year-old company. “I was looking for something different,” Mason told Noozhawk.

And that’s exactly what he found.

Mason said he never tires of the dramatic reaction potential buyers inevitably fail to suppress during demonstrations he leads up and down the California coast.

The reaction is no coincidence, since the first major focus of perfecting the product was getting the technology right, a task led by zSpace Chief Technology Officer David Chavez.

The key difference between what zSpace does and what others do is all in the comfort and head-tracking technology, Chavez said.

Users can run a particular app or software program about the subject of their choosing, and the glasses ensure that what they’re seeing is a holistic and believable image.

“The idea is it’s a new platform,” Chavez said. “I can tell you a lot about the technology, (but) when people sit down in front of it, it’s a big, big change over anything that they’ve seen.

“The biggest deal is we’ve integrated some elements into the experience. What we’re trying to do is simulate the viewing experience as if the objects in the scene were really where they are in space.

“In traditional 3D or up until zSpace, head-tracking technology is not there,” he continued. “Now we can do all kinds of crazy things with it. The user can pick up this tool and interact with the scene. There’s no question that this system has brought application to a broad set of people.”

zSpace, a private company funded by Palo Alto-based Artiman Ventures, has grown to 70 employees. Most of that growth has come within the past year, after the company began shipping its system across the world, primarily to software developers.

Uses and fields that could benefit from the technology seem endless, although Chavez specifically lists education, manufacturing, medicine, engineering, government, and even how retail business is done.

Chavez said the tool could be used for collaboration, or, really, for whatever recreational or professional use people can come up with.

The entire system costs $4,000, but zSpace also offers use of its flagship product for $1,500 a year through its Technology Access Program.

With 20 years of experience in start-up companies, Chavez doesn’t shy away of noting that zSpace – the “coolest thing” he’s ever worked on—has the potential to become an everyday staple.

“In the long term, people might look back and wonder how people used 2-D screens,” he said. “It could be that these end up on everybody’s desk. This is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever worked on because it’s going to change what people do. We’ve been waiting for something like this.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at gpotthoff@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.