Vator Splash Competition

Vator Splash Competition

All contestants:
Intelligent Papers
Location: 530 University Avenue, Palo Alto, California, United States United States
Founded in: 2008
Stage: Post-launch
Number of employees: 6-15
Short URL: vator.co/intelligent-papers

Intelligent Papers

The Next "Textbook"
Startup/business
Palo Alto, California, United States United States
http://www.intelligentpapers.com
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Company description

Revolutionary Education System

The vision of Intelligent Papers is to build a revolutionary education system and the backend software that:

  • Replaces existing textbooks by creating a handheld device that enables students to read textbooks readily and easily, take notes, highlight, take tests, and do their homework.  
  • Provides virtual education by enabling virtual laboratory environments (for example, science labs such as biology, physics, chemistry, or language labs for learning a foreign language), that can be experienced through a simple touch environment and by enabling access to videos of remote classroom environments.  
  • Seamlessly integrates education tools like calculator, encyclopedia, dictionary and maps.  
  • Saves the environment by not only saving trees but also carbon emissions due to distribution of textbooks and other educational material.  

This approach gets us closer to education equality across the globe.  

“The Next Textbook”

Our solution to this problem is a product we call the nBook, which is the “next textbook”.  It is based on a very simple touch based embedded device.  While our goal is to support multiple devices in the future, our first version is a 7 inch touch device.  There are only two buttons on the device: the power button and the home button.  The home button is used by the software to go back the previous screen or to exit out of applications.  In addition, we provide an SD card interface for memory scalability, headphone output, microphone input and a micro USB based charge socket.   For communication, the current device comes with WiFi and future versions will support 3G.  

 Client Software

This device runs our own client software which is currently built on Windows CE, however, Widows CE is neither accessible nor even visible to the user.  The purpose of this is to present an application specific, touch optimized interface to the user.  The software is first organized around various subjects the student is taking during the academic year.  For each subject, there is a textbook, an exercise book and multiple audio visuals (this organization of content may change based on the school system).  A book reader application is used to read the books.  The application comes with the ability to write on the book, as well as highlighting.  The ability to write on the book is especially important to solve the exercises in the exercise book.  In addition, there is a notebook attached to each book as well as various navigation options to navigate within the book.  There are also supplemental content such as a dictionary and an encyclopedia which can be accessed either from within the book or from the top level.  Currently, the audiovisual formats supported are music, pictures, video, and Powerpoint presentations.  In the near future, we will be supporting Adobe Flash content, which will allow us to leverage existing interactive content written for web based education applications.  

Our client software is designed to operate as a book (including all audio visual content) even when a network is not present.  When the student goes to school, the device connects to the network and the client software performs various synchronization tasks such as downloading content, which may include the teacher’s notes for the day, uploading homework and student usage statistics.  The client software also supports multiple distributed applications in conjunction with the back end.  These may include shared whiteboard applications, teacher controls, educational multi-party gaming, and centralized or individual testing.  


 

Back End Systems

The function of the backend system is to manage users, content, and applications.  When the student is first handed a device, it is typically empty.  When the student completes authentication the device downloads all relevant content for that student as soon as it is connected to the appropriate network.  The back end, from then on, is responsible for all content synchronization and book keeping for that student.  It is also responsible to make sure that the student is properly licensed for all content received.  This may include full license, limited seat license, individually paid license, etc.  

The back end also keeps track of all student usage and performance related statistics and makes them available to all other applications.  For example, a math exercise application may make use of student math aptitude information gathered by a separate math application.  A history teaching application may use information on whether the student learns better by reading or listening, which may be assessed by a separate application.

 


Team
Business model

US Strategy

We started trials in the Riverside district in California two months ago.  The district has ordered a second paid trial and notified us that they are planning to order more.  

 

We have also been contacted by other districts in California who are interested in starting pilots.   Finally, we started exploring other states in US.  

 

Our strategy in US has been to start in California leveraging the Digital Textbook Initiative.   So far, we have had a very successful start.  We are now using our experience in California to penetrate other states that are also progressive in education.  

 

Our business plan is a combination of software licensing and a service model.  In particular, we license device software to schools for a yearly, per student license fee and we also provide a backend service using cloud servers.  The purpose of the backend service is user and content management and synchronization and back up of student data. In addition, the backend service will also be used to assist in shared classroom activities.  

 

Europe Strategy

We have completed trials in Turkey last spring with two fifth grade classes of 30 students each.  We are also starting trials in a university in Turkey for a distance learning application.  
 
Leveraging our experience in Turkey, we started discussions with large European operators in order to use their country operations for distribution and support.  
 

Asia Strategy

In Asia we started discussions in Malaysia and in China.  Similar to our approach in US and Europe, we initiated a plan to set up trials in these countries.  
 

 

Competitive advantage

Web Based Education Tools

There are a number of web based education tools.  Since the PC penetration and the internet penetration are minimal in most markets that we consider, we do not see these tools as competitive.  On the contrary, these companies are all potential content partners for us.  In fact, all such companies we contacted were very excited about the distribution potential of our platform.  

Lessons from One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)

One potential direct competitor is the OLPC project.  However, there are several reasons this project is not competitive in the markets we consider and in fact there are a number of lessons we learned from this project:

  • OLPC initially started as a $100 laptop project and it turned out to cost more than $200.  It shows us that a general purpose laptop is too expensive and that we needed to go further in order to bring the cost under $100.  
  • The hardware was built for underdeveloped countries.  This presents an image problem for developing countries which look to developed countries as a role model for progress.  Since the bulk of the market is in developing countries, we decided to focus on them.  
  • The same market focus also brings out a financing issue.  Typically, in the underdeveloped countries, neither the students nor the governments can afford to buy OLPC devices, and therefore, the project was forced to find external funding.  In contrast, in developing countries, typically, the governments can afford to spend some amount of money for their students.  Hence we decided to focus on this segment.  
  • OLPC project has also showed us that the “always-on and always-connected” model does not work well in the education market.  First, it creates yet another level of infrastructure problems that need to be solved and financed.  Second, uncontrolled access makes parents and school administrators nervous.  Finally, internet becomes very distracting for students to focus on studying.  Instead, they choose to surf the web, chat, and email.  
  • Finally, since it is a general purpose device, it is very hard to protect content.  Therefore, such a platform would not be very conducive to a thriving third party application and content market.  

 

Laptops and Netbooks

We see several problems with laptops and notebooks, some of which are similar to problems with OLPC:

  • Laptops, and even some netbooks are very expensive for this market in general.  CPUs and peripherals built for PCs are built as general purpose devices.  As a result, they tend to have higher performance and therefore higher cost.  In contrast, we focus on embedded devices which are much cheaper and use much less power.  As a result, the devices we use cost less than $100 in volume.  
  • Laptops tend to have battery lives less than 8 hours (unless they use large and heavy batteries).  This application requires that the devices last at least 8 hours.  
  • Laptops tend to be too heavy for small kids to read books with.  
  • Laptops and netbooks are also complicated to use and they have keyboards which make them ergonomically incompatible with small kids to read books with.  In contrast, we use very simple touch devices with one button for power and a single additional button for navigation control.  The students we did our pilot with were able to use the devices with little or in some cases with no help.  
  • The same mechanical components and keyboards also make these devices too fragile for kids to use.  They are prone to breaking when dropped and extremely vulnerable to spilling liquids.  
  • Even limited connectivity and the fact that these devices are general purpose devices make them incompatible for schoolwork for kids since the kids tend to be distracted with internet, chatting, and social networks.  In addition, they tend to install games and music which tend to distract them even more.  Studies have shown that students do not read books with laptops for these reasons.   For example, in a controlled study (Hembrook & Gay 2003), students with open laptops remembered less lecture content than those with closed laptops
  • Finally, similar to OLPC, it is very hard to protect content in a general purpose device.  Therefore, such a platform would not be very conducive to a thriving third party application and content market.  

e-Ink Based Devices

More recently, e-Ink based devices, such as Kindle have been proposed for students to read books.  These devices which were really optimized for reading novels also have several issues when it comes to replacing textbooks:

  • First and foremost, e-Ink is currently a black and white only technology.  This creates a huge problem since color is used heavily in textbooks.  In fact, most textbook content is in fact color coded, i.e., the text, for example, might refer to a blue box in a diagram or a red arrow.  
  • Second, this technology also comes with a long switch time.  It typically takes half a second for the screen to change.   This leads to a number of issues:
    • These devices cannot support video, which is a very powerful educational tool.  
    • Similarly, these devices cannot support interactive exercises, such as flash based content.  This would also rule out a significant amount of educational material, as well as using these devices for testing.  
    • Highlighting in these devices are either not supported, or very limited.  For example highlighting in different colors cannot be supported.  
    • In most of these devices note taking with a pen is not supported or at best limited since multi color is not supported.