Research, Technology & Innovation
The global reach of Florida innovations
Augmented Reality Language Learning
Entrepreneur SARA SMITH
With no background to speak of in business, entrepreneurship or technology, Sara Smith has spent the last couple years as a part-time entrepreneur starting up a technology business.
Fortunately, it’s based on what she knows thoroughly: Learning a second language.
Smith is a University of South Florida assistant professor of learning English as a second language and language education. She took a research interest in adapting augmented reality — Pokemon GO is an example — to teach kids a new language. USF gave her a $5,000 research grant. Her results left her impressed by the potential, as it did USF. “The University of South Florida is so supportive of innovation,” she says. “They encouraged me to think of it as not only a research tool but also as a business.”
She has a provisional patent. USF gave her a separate $25,000 grant to commercialize the work. Starting a business has been a challenge for the new inventor and company founder. “A huge learning curve for me — I freely tell everyone,” she says.
With the USF money, Smith was able to make the learning more enjoyable and effective by hiring an artist and a professional programmer with “gamification” knowledge. Her company, MARVL, this year moved from beta testing among friends and family to a beta test in Manatee public schools. MARVL features an interplay of Spanish and English vocab flashcards and animated, bilingual augmented reality “teachers.” Florida, third in the nation in number of students learning English, is a natural match for her idea.
She hopes to expand it beyond the two virtual characters created so far and add languages. MARVL, by the way, stands for Multimedia Augmented Reality Vocabulary Learning. “I really wanted to think of the way it feels when you use augmented reality. It really feels magical to me,” she says.