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Augmented reality textbook makes math more engaging for children

Left to right: Emma Howes, Akshal Mittal and Simone Jensen, pictured. (Courtesy of Emma Howes)

By Rio Wakura

Nov. 14, 2022 12:12 a.m.

An unexpected hobby picked up during COVID-19 quarantine can sometimes change your life.

Simone Jensen, a fourth-year mathematics student at the University of St Andrews who studied abroad at UCLA during the 2021-2022 school year, brought her hobby to life by teaching herself how to code an augmented reality-based app. The app, called “Year 3 Maths Smartbooks,” links to a physical textbook that pops out 3D shapes and characters when you place your phone above it, making math more engaging for young students with interactive games.

After writing the code for the app during quarantine, Jensen said she launched the company with friends she met while studying abroad at UCLA. Emma Howes, a fourth-year film studies and drama student at Queen Mary University of London, was one of the co-founders of SmartBooks who also studied abroad at UCLA with Jensen.

Jensen said she decided to link her app to physical textbooks to supplement the use of already-available resources. She said she felt that an exciting technology like AR could help transform outdated physical textbooks.

Howes also said SmartBooks will be an effective way to capitalize on children’s increasing screen time.

“I think children have a lot of screen time as it is these days,” Howes said. “They’re going to be using screens anyway; it may as well be for an educational purpose.”

The team had a long journey to the July 19 publication of their first book, “Smartbooks Year 3 Maths Book AR: A smartbooks production” on Amazon, Jensen said.

For months after launching the app and product, they tested the app in homes and schools to receive feedback while working with Amazon and the app store to get their products approved.

“There’s a lot of things that just take longer than you’d ever think,” Jensen said. “I would wake up every single morning and I’d get an email from Amazon saying, ‘Your book is rejected.’”

However, the team was able to receive positive feedback from children and parents, Howes said. She added that she felt a sense of accomplishment when she saw the excited looks on children’s faces testing their products.

Akshat Mittal, a third-year business economics student who was in charge of managing SmartBooks’ company growth, said one acquaintance was especially excited about the technology.

“When he started using the app, he would immediately call all his friends and they would host a gathering to see the magic all together,” Mittal said.

Howes, Jensen and Mittal helped represent SmartBooks at the Hult Prize Global Accelerator in Boston, a competition in which young people try to solve a global challenge through entrepreneurship.

Mittal said that he still keeps in touch with people he met at the Accelerator and developed strong relationships with fellow startup competitors.

“We didn’t realize the magnitude of the competition until we got there and started meeting everyone,” Howes said. “We were … quite lucky after the end of the competition, even though we never made it to the New York finals.

Mittal said he hopes that SmartBooks can make learning fun for every child.

“I think we want the company to be the person that every child thinks of whenever they think of learning – not boring, but exciting,” Mittal said.

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Rio Wakura
Wakura is a features contributor. She is a second-year business economics student at UCLA
Wakura is a features contributor. She is a second-year business economics student at UCLA
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