Smith Announces $450K in Nat. Science Foundation Grants for Two Monmouth Co. Small BusinessesEach awarded $225K for feasibility work using avatars in education, training
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) announced today that the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced two $225,000 awards to small businesses in his district, which promise to help improve the way American students learn.
Small Factory Innovations in Fair Haven and Mgenuity in Lincroft were awarded NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 grants.
“The SBIR program aims to help turn scientific discoveries into benefits for society and the economy by kick-starting private sector companies and their technological innovations,” said Smith, a staunch supporter of the SBIR grant. “The SBIR program helps create incentive and opportunity for startups and small businesses pursuing scientific research and development.” Funded through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (Public Law 114-113), SBIR is authorized by the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-81). Smith supported both laws. He praised both companies for their hard work and entrepreneurial initiative.
“Mgenuity certainly aspires for the aims of the SBIR program, and its prospects to foster a new approach to educating students in the math and sciences is bold and ambitious,“ Smith said. “Mgenuity’s lofty goals seem nothing less than to transform the scientific learning experience for students into an unforgettable experience using dazzling holographic imagery to bring about both greater interest and understanding in the sciences in America’s schools.”
“Small Factory Innovations is a very worthwhile project to advance social skills training software that can be of help to children and adults with autism by using browsers and virtual reality,” said Smith, founder and co-chairman of the House autism caucus. “I have worked with the autism community for many years, and have high hopes it will yield benefits for children and adults with autism, and their families.”
THE GRANT FOR SMALL FACTORY INNOVATIONS was awarded to develop groundbreaking computer software to improve educational techniques for students with autism and other special needs students across the county.
The project will explore integrating virtual reality into social skills training. The resulting software is expected to be commercially marketable, and sufficiently flexible for use in speech therapy, bullying awareness, foreign languages, life-skills training, job training and socially-conscious role playing. It aims to combine proven social skills training techniques and curriculum with animation and game-based learning. Software is currently limited to personal computer (PC) and has been tested with successful results. The project now seeks to develop a browser-based version in an effort to become device agnostic and more available.
In his application, Small Factory Innovations owner Chris Dudick noted the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder births, as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has skyrocketed in recent years by 110 percent from 1 in 150 to 1 in 68 births in the past decade. “In New Jersey, the prevalence is the highest in the CDC study at 1 in 41 children,” Smith said.
“Our project will develop a software that teaches social skills to children and young adults on the autistic spectrum,” Dudick said. “We will have a browser-based and virtual reality component. Our prototype has been successful and is currently selling in school districts across New Jersey. This grant will enable us to scale the product and company and in turn help the lives of these students who are dealing with the struggles of autism.”
THE GRANT AWARDED TO MGENUITY CORPORATION will enable students to understand complex scientific concepts by viewing them in 3D, helping them to see them visually. The company says the grant will fund one of the first projects that will develop holographic applications specifically for science education. The final result of the project will be a set of mixed-reality holographic 3D applications that lets students explore and understand scientific concepts and phenomena. Intelligent avatars will guide students through thought-provoking scientific explorations and continuously assess their learning. Students can interact with the avatar in natural ways: by manipulating objects in the virtual environment or by clicking buttons and constructing sentences. In teacher-guided mode the avatar can be turned off and the teacher can lead the exploration.
"If you don't quite understand why ocean tides happen every six hours or so, you are not alone,” said Dr. Attila Medl, the CEO of Mgenuity, a small education technology company of about seven software and education experts, which hopes to grow with this grant. He said that many key concepts in science are dynamic by nature and simply cannot be understood from the static pages of a textbook. Mgenuity uses its ScienceBrainius technology to create holographic 3D to teach science concepts in ways they were never taught before. He foresees students wearing holographic headsets touching giant red blood cells that float around in the science classroom just like they do in the blood stream. Students can grab any one of the cells and examine how the cells pick up and release oxygen, and why breathing in carbon monoxide is so dangerous. A talking expert avatar assists them in their explorations. Or they can dive into the unimaginably hot core of a star and experience thermonuclear fusion in front of their eyes. Holographic 3D could potentially transform science education.
"Mgenuity hopes to bring these unparalleled experiences to science classrooms in New Jersey and across the nation," Dr. Medl added.
NSF’s SBIR grants dispersed high-risk technological innovations using research and development grants to small businesses and startups. Some well-known examples of NSF SBIR-funded companies include Symantec, which is now a global leader in cybersecurity, and Qualcomm, a world leader in wireless communications technology. For more information about the grant program click here.