River Snapshot: Discovring new ways to educate the masses with virtual reality with Discovr

by Will Mason • April 24th, 2015

As a part of our ongoing mission to showcase the virtual reality industry’s hottest startups we headed over to River, Rothenberg Ventures’ new accelerator program for VR, for an inside look at (a ‘VR Snapshot’ if you will) each of the 13 companies (selected from a group of 200) in the program, before their big demo day Monday.

Education is one of the things that excites me most about virtual reality. The world we live in today is fraught with overstimulation, we are constantly inundated with information and distraction on a second by second basis. In this world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage students in the classroom using traditional means. That is why virtual reality and immersive education are so important. Imagine instead of listening to a lecture about ancient Rome you could actually be there. Immersive learning has been proven to often be more effective than traditional means, and virtual reality enables that on a mass scale.

One of the companies hard at work bringing the future of education to light is Discovr. We sat down with Josh Madonado, the company’s founder and CEO, to learn more about the company and what they have been up to at River the last few months.

An early work in progress screenshot of Discovr Rome.

An early work in progress screenshot of Discovr Rome.

Who is Discovr? 

Our vision is that students would be self-actualized by learning what they’re inspired to learn in worlds where anything is possible. Our mission is to create compelling virtual reality content that will allow them to do that. When people take off the headset we want them to have a profound understanding of something they didn’t have before they put on the headset. We’re offering a new solution in a marketplace that consists largely of textbooks and instructional video. We believe that immersive technologies have the potential to exponentially improve experience based learning, and open up a range of engaging educational experiences that have never been possible before. We’re committed to the production and distribution of those experiences.

What is the team’s background?

Most of us are children of the digital age thrown into a school system that was built for the industrial revolution. We know what’s wrong with it because we’ve witnessed it dismantling in the wake of digital disruption. Our team consists of:

  • [Josh Maldonado] – An ambiguous boy from Toronto (that’s the city where Drake lives)
  • Jazmin Cano – our lead technical artist, rarely matched in her enthusiasm for VR
  • Jan Herca – our remote collaborator in Valladolid, Spain and huge contributor to the Discovr Rome Project
  • Omar Charles – Our Audio Director – sound and music production pro
  • Our awesome Toronto interns: Lulu, Brad, Mitch and Alex

When did you guys start working together?

It started as a University thesis project that explored how narrative driven VR content could impact learning. Omar and I produced a little VR experience about blood cells and we loved doing it so we drew up a few more concepts. We decided to apply to River. I was accepted as an Entrepreneur in residence, flew out to San Fran a few weeks later and since then have been connecting and working with a lot of Talented people including Jan, Jazmin and a handful of other amazing collaborators that have worked on various discovr projects in the last three months.

Where are you guys at with your projects?

Still early stage but have started giving private demos of our history education title Discovr Rome [many of you may remember this video, but the team has completely rebuilt the experience from the ground up] with a few other titles in the works for both mobile and tethered VR including a project called Vessels which is an animated virtual tour of the circulatory system in which you explore blood flow at a cellular level, navigated by a friendly robot named PAL. During these months we’re be focusing on producing content in fields of History and Science. We think it’s interesting to make VR content for subjects on opposite ends of the academic spectrum, each posing unique challenges to what they might look like in VR. In the fall we’ll be rolling our ‘VR in the Classroom’ demo days at partner Universities in Canada, Australia and the UK. Research and development is a big priority for us.

An early look at Vessels VR.

Why do you feel the things you are doing are important for VR?

Now that virtual reality has entered the picture we have to rethink the production pipeline for educational content. We have to ask ourselves “What does a Science or history textbook look like as a world that the students of tomorrow will be able to explore?” The implications that VR has on the way we learn are profound, but getting VR to reach its full potential as a learning tool will require a lot of ideation, execution, field testing and iteration. We’re dedicated to that process.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 11.01.18 AM

What kind of funding have you received, and from who?

[We have recieved $100k in] seed funding from Rothenberg Ventures [and have] research grants from Ryerson University.

How can people experience your work for themselves?

The first version of Discovr Rome will be made available pretty soon via all available distribution channels (including Upload VR) and we’ll have a few more fun things coming your way before summer ends.

The team at Discovr is currently heads down preparing its demo for Founder’s Field Day. Be on the look out for a hands on review (complete with a download link!) coming soon. Also stay tuned for the rest of the awesome River startups, we will be profiling them all between today and Monday.



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