Curiscope's Ed Barton on the 'magical' potential of AR

Curiscope's Ed Barton on the 'magical' potential of AR

AR and VR are big buzzwords in publishing at the moment. In some areas they seem destined to remain just that - buzzwords. But in the field of edtech, these interactive technologies really do seem to have the potential to benefit publishers and readers alike. Several big-name brands and small startups are already incorporating them into their educational offerings, with promising results.

One of them is Curiscope, a Brighton-based agency creating "wild adventures in VR and AR." Curiscope's c.e.o. Ed Barton (right) will be speaking in the EdTech stream of this year's FutureBook conference, on a panel that asks the timely question: What place do AR and VR have in the classroom?

We asked Barton to kick off the discussion here by sharing his progress and insights so far.

What's the history of Curiscope?

We've been around for two years, and I and my co-founder Ben Kidd have a background working in film. We've known each other for years - when I went off to university, he started an animation studio, typically doing work purely in CGI computer generated imagery and creative 4D work that went to places like museums. By 4D, I mean 3D stereoscopic images but on a motion simulator, for example. We started Curiscope with a belief that VR and AR were really exciting new mediums which could deliver more than just entertainment, and build experiences that were richer and let you interact in a really accessible way.

Tell us more about your flagship product, Virtuali-Tee

It's both simple and complex at the same time. There's a T-shirt and an app, you need both, and the app sees the design on the T-shirt and it triggers a whole series of line animations, so you can see the heart beating, go inside the bloodstream, go into the lungs, the intestine and isolate different systems. You've got a guide who talks you through what's exciting about different parts of the body. It's pitched at early secondary school kids but definitely finds a home in later primary age groups. The idea is not that this T-shirt will teach you the entire curriculum of the anatomy, but that it is should serve as part of that teaching and is an engaging and exciting part.

We launched it on a Kickstarter campaign last year and it was very successful, we sold 3,100 T-shirts through the campaign. We're just going into proper selling now, and an ICT teacher on Facebook, "Mr P", made a viral video of it and we sold out everywhere, so I am currently scrabbling planes over from China. We're currently doing a little exhibition at the Science Museum, and we're in Selfridges and on Amazon and are confirming other deals.

How did your book with DK come about?

We want to build stuff that anybody can pick up, take into a classroom, or gift - we consider ourselves a kind of modern version of DK, I guess, we are built on the same idea and beliefs. DK books were to me what Curiscope ideally will be to a lot of folks. Having launched Virtuali-Tee, DK were excited to work with us and we thought, 'Why don't we create a book that introduces people to virtual reality?' It has an AR element, so you scan different parts of the book and it brings up VR experiences - there is one on top of a volcano, one in space, one with T-Rex, one in the Colosseum and one where you are an insect on a pond. It's called All About Virtual Reality and was published on October 5th.

What's your hope for the future of these technologies in education?

I don't think VR is going to reinvent the classroom - that whole notion that the classroom needs to be disrupted and we need to put everyone in headsets. But I think VR can be a great engagement point with which to spark somebody's imagination. The scope for AR is probably a little bit broader. Really good AR can be quite hard to distinguish from the real thing, and if you can have an experiment, say, with explosive materials in the classroom, that feels as real as an actual experiment, it can give you a great learning experience, be cost effective and enable you to do things you couldn't do before. Potentially AR is this magical, interactive learning medium and we want to be ahead of that.

Book your tickets to FutureBook 2017 (including lower-rate EdTech for Publishers-only passes) here.