EdTech is a hot market right now thanks to the advent of mainstream augmented reality. ARKit, ARCore, and a slew of lesser-known platforms have created new opportunities for the augmented reality education company of any size.
It’s an excellent time for innovators to step into the space, but let’s look at some of the prime movers who are already there.
One of the originators in the augmented reality EdTech field, zSpace has been around since 2011. Their current solution is based on dedicated AR headsets that don’t look much different than ordinary sunglasses.
With the glasses, students are presented with fully interactive lessons ranging from anatomy to history. Interaction is performed through a dedicated smart stylus. The interface isn’t as intuitive as newer technologies like those seen in modern VR, but it’s undeniably effective.
The viewers come in two varieties. Tracked Glasses can fully interact with virtual objects, while Follower Glasses are permitted only to watch. It’s a brilliant idea, allowing a teacher to make a presentation without students losing focus as they play with the technology.
xpereal is a consulting firm that acts as an interface between tech startups and large education organizations. The California-based AR education company was founded by EdTech pioneer Peter Campbell, and currently works with partners as diverse as Microsoft and Cal State University.
Their advisory services serve an important role in the developing AR/VR EdTech space. There’s a gap between educators, who are often behind the times technologically, and tech startups, which often have no direct educational experience. Both groups typically “run lean”, and don’t have space in the budget for employees who don’t directly contribute to the core mission.
By employing both teachers and tech pioneers, xpereal can help these two disparate groups communicate and collaborate towards the common goal of improving education.
Brazilian startup EvoBooks is well-established in its home country, with augmented reality programs up and running in hundreds of schools. Based on consumer-grade tablets and notebooks, the company brings a gamut of tech-savvy learning experiences, ranging from traditional software, to virtual and augmented reality.
EvoBooks is by necessity an app developer as well as a platform builder. With Internet connections spotty across much of South America, their solutions need to be usable offline. The augmented reality education company offers complete packages that include all hardware and equipment, preloaded with a variety of lesson plans.
Seedling has the distinct advantage of direct partnership with Apple, who acts as the sole retailer for Parker, the Augmented Reality Teddy Bear. Using AR, kids can look inside Parker to engage in STEAM learning via a series of games, puzzles, and exercises. As games are mastered, Parker’s happiness level goes up, and more activities unlock.
Parker himself isn’t an electronic device. Rather, he’s a fully plush bear with a distinct pattern printed on his paws and tummy. Using an iPad or iPhone, players can look inside the animal to view his inner workings, all in AR. Seedling also provides several “aprons” to place on him, unlocking additional games.
Google is also directly involved in AR EdTech with their Google Expeditions program. An outgrowth of their long-running Cardboard-based VR project, the new Expeditions AR relies instead on ARCore to bring atoms, cells, historical monuments, and even hurricanes into the classroom.
Large corporations like Google have the advantage of their name. Schools are flocking to Google to join their pioneer program, even though it’s unclear exactly what Google brings to the table.
The promo reel available on the Expeditions website shows students clustered around spots on the floor in their classroom, viewing virtual objects. What remains to be seen is if Google will add interaction to the mix.
Gravity Jack have been a leader in the augmented reality field since 2009. Operating in a broad swath of industries from medical to EdTech, the company has built up an impressive portfolio that includes World of Tanks, Heinz, Intel, and more.
Central to Gravity Jack’s AR strategy is their in-house Adroit AR platform. Built on standard mobile devices, Adroit’s focus is on combining AR with advanced 6-degrees-of-freedom interpretation of real-world objects, allowing it to aid maintenance and manufacturing tasks for high-end corporate clients.
In the educational space, the company is experienced with mainstream AR platforms utilizing iOS and Android, including the latest ARKit and ARCore SDKs.
Augment is another AR company that serves a large number of industries, but their EdTech arm offers a free subscription for school use. Billed as a DIY platform for educators, users can easily create their own virtual objects using a robust toolset. Objects can then be viewed by students during a lecture, allowing teachers to integrate “hands-on” visual aids.
The platform is also useful in teaching 3D design itself, and Augment offers a set of lessons for this purpose.
Although Augment’s solution is simple, it’s proven reliable and popular, with clients across the globe.
Unlike many other AR companies, Lifeliqe is laser-focused on one vertical. Using VR, AR, and even mixed reality on the Microsoft HoloLens, the augmented reality education company offers over 700 science-based lesson plans and 1,100 models.
Their AR offering, available for iOS and Android devices, lets students observe each other’s muscular and skeletal workings in real time, or watch and interact with plants, animals, and objects from around the world.
The extensive library of models is the star here, each loaded with detail and supplementary information to help them fit into any curriculum.
Both apps are built on standard mobile devices, and both require physical objects to function. Elements utilizes paper cubes that students can print out and assemble in class. Point a device at one, and it transforms into an element such as oxygen or hydrogen. Move the elements near each other, and they will react as the real elements would.
Anatomy, on the other hand, is able to animate special posters of the human body, bringing organs and systems to life.
Another AR education company relying on physical objects, AR Flashcards and their eponymous app asks teachers to print cards that animate on student’s devices. Keying in on printed patterns isn’t the latest and greatest technology, but it’s an effective and inexpensive way to bring augmented reality into the classroom.
In the world of education, there’s a strong argument to be made for low-end solutions like AR Flashcards. Budgets are often tight in schools, and many administrators won’t even consider options that require expensive new equipment.
By using standard devices like AR Flashcards does, companies can get their foot in the door and show schools the magic of augmented reality. Once the advantages of tech become clear, schools will almost certainly be more open to a larger investment.
DEEPBLUE Worlds is a startup quickly carving a niche for themselves with their array of fun, accessible, dinosaur-themed AR apps. Their latest is Dino On My Desk, which projects a miniature dinosaur named Plunkett onto any desk, table, or other flat surface. By interacting with Plunkett, students learn about the prehistoric world with lessons integrating biology, Earth science, and paleontology.
Like many other entry-level apps, Dino On My Desk requires a printed image in order to accurately render Plunkett. With the advent of ARKit and ARCore, it’s likely that this requirement will be lifted in future.
A Thriving Market
If there’s a lesson to be taken from the incredibly broad range of AR EdTech companies and apps out there, it’s that the market is thirsting for more. More experiences, more lessons, more opportunities for students to learn using this exciting new technology.
Now that AR has finally reached the mainstream, it’s time for the new wave of innovators and creators to step in. The groundwork is there for AR to touch everyone’s lives. All that’s needed is the content.