SPRINGFIELD, Mo. For years libraries have been adding computers to their work spaces to compliment their book resources.
But at Missouri State’s Meyer library there’s yet a higher-tech advancement with the addition of the Innovation Lab, a facility that provides access to emerging technologies such as virtual reality, robotics, and 3D printing to help people learn and prepare themselves for the workplace.
Virtual reality has many choices available including the ever popular video games. But it’s also got plenty of hands-on opportunities to immerse yourself in training for a job.
“Health care, construction management are two of the fields that would benefit from virtual reality,” explained Tom Peters, the MSU Dean of Library Services. “We also have some researchers here at the university that design virtual reality environments, building their own so to speak. As an example we had a church in the Yucatan that’s no longer standing that was rebuilt virtually back to the 17th century and you can actually see events happening in this church and courtyard in virtual reality even though none of it actually exists today.”
The 3-D printers make a wide-range of objects out of a plant-based filament and the printer can even make parts for itself.
“As the tools for fabrication become more and more accessible and commonplace you’ll see them be more integrated into your life,” said the Innovation Lab’s Tyler Drenon. “Long-term we could see it print (human) organs and organic materials. There are some on the cutting edge of the field right now where that’s already happening to some extent.”
Part of that integration into our society includes smaller computers like the Raspberry Pi that fits in the palm of your hand.
“It basically has the computing power of an old Super Nintendo,” Drenon said. “It really opens things up for people to work on different projects they didn’t have access to before.”
Those same $30 computers can also power robots that are available at the center.
“Students can check these out just like they can with books,” Drenon said of the robots. “We want to provide a space for students to tinker and explore ideas. It’s a learning platform in the form of a robot.”
The learning tools at the Innovation Lab even include a sandbox.
Of course it’s a high-tech version with a light projector that makes the sand below it become 3-D like for virtual engineering.
“It could be used to build a golf course or any kind of mining or construction-like activity,” Peters said.
The lab provides a place for experimentation, exploration, and creation and the future applications are limitless.
“I hope that it leads to some breakthroughs in workplace applications and perhaps new industries in southwest Missouri,” Peters said. “There’s just a lot of potential applications out there.”
The Innovation Lab is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday-thru-Friday in the basement of Missouri State’s Meyer Library on the Springfield campus.