Local startup developing VR chemistry lab – News – The Ames Tribune

iSO-FORM, a small startup just outside of downtown Ames, is developing a virtual reality system that can replace physical chemistry labs for university classes.

The program runs using a headset, wireless head controls and motion-tracking cameras to track the student’s movements around an area. Students would use the hand controls to pick up and manipulate the virtual lab equipment within the environment as if they were in a physical lab.

Russell Adams, iSO-FORM director of technology, said the chemistry lab program has a proof of concept-level prototype ready at a rough three-dimensional level. They also have a full working program commissioned by the National Library of Medicine where users build the enzymes responsible for DNA replication.

Adams said the company is shopping the idea to major educational companies to see if they would be willing to buy a full-scale program, which could be designed to simulate lab experiments from introductory-level classes to advanced procedures, and save universities the cost of purchasing new materials over several years.

He said getting the system, including a Vive headset and a computer powerful enough to run the program, would cost around $4,000 each. However, the price would go down as more groups purchase the products and allow for more development within the virtual lab.

“At this point, we’re waiting for a company to make the first investment in a couple of these things and then we can scale up from there,” Adams said. “Then each one will get cheaper.”

The company began seven years ago as a medical illustration company, but later branched out into animation, app development, games and eventually virtual reality.

iSO-FORM currently does some work for McGraw-Hill, but most of its work has been for pharmaceutical companies looking to get their sales representatives up to speed on how a drug works before sending them to doctor’s offices.

Adams said breaking into the education sector is difficult due to the regulatory oversight required to make sure the materials are useful and accessible for those with disabilities. He also said the sector is traditionally conservative in its approach to adopting new technology

“The same tools to create (iSO-FORM’s existing apps) are the same ones to develop virtual reality,” he said. “The technology is there right now, and if somebody called us this afternoon to create these interactive lab simulations, we can start on that right now.”

But iSO-FORM is moving into a sector ready to grow heavily as virtual reality technology becomes better and more accessible to the average consumer.

iSO-FORM innovation director Nick Klein said while the education and medical sectors are still behind the cutting edge in terms of virtual reality, the company will still work towards advancing virtual reality in those areas.

“In many ways, it’s replacing textbooks in secondary and post-secondary education systems,” he said. “Why would you flip through the pages of a book when you can interact with the structures in this way?”

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