From Texas to Egypt and Australia, a San Antonio company is making inroads in classrooms around the world.
Merge makes soft foam VR/AR headsets and sells them in major consumer outlets like Walmart and Best Buy. It also makes the Merge Cube, a palm-sized physical cube that allows users to graft digital content onto and view through a smartphone or tablet.
The San Antonio company launched a push into education at last year’s International Society for Technology in Education conference, ISTE, one of the biggest edTech conferences in the country.
Since then they have pushed more education content on their platform that can be used with the Cube. A student studying academy could use the cube to see a human heart in their hand, an astronomy student could see our solar system revolving around the sun.
The company recently took home a "best in show" award from this year’s ISTE. It was also recognized by the American Association of School Librarians, AASL, as one of the best apps for teaching and learning.
“It was selected because of the immersive experience it provides which is just unlike any other,” said Mary Keeling president of AASL.
Full demo of the now FREE app "Moment AR:" an evidence and research based tool using the Mergecube by @MergeVR for #autism, #mentalhealth, #language, and #social skills. Full video found on the website: https://t.co/YEnTogi4DD #ARVRinEDU #SEL #edchat #SPED #augmentedreality pic.twitter.com/LY2AXwsGR0— Kevin Chaja (@el_chakka) February 15, 2019
The cube and its app along with the other content help make learning about volume, for example, more understandable, said Keeling. And the fact that the cube works with a standard smartphone makes it more accessible than some products.
The result has been Merge’s education offerings catching fire.
"Education is clearly the lead horse. We view education as a primary revenue driver for the company in the foreseeable future," said Steve Patti head of Marketing for Merge.
Merge officials said it has grown to supply more than 20 countries, including Australia where it recently partnered with Microsoft at the EduTech conference, the country’s largest education technology conference.
Microsoft staff could be seen promoting Merge’s Cube in their Sydney booth. And Merge staff are heartened by the response they have gained as a result of the technology behemoth’s cache.
“We got not only exposure…but it helped to engage important and influential educators,” said Andrew Trickett, co-founder and chief financial officer.
The warm reception and strong response in education have resulted in Merge focusing their software offerings and efforts in that space rather than commercial. Merge was a hit at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in 2017 and 2018, but they aren’t investing in a booth this year.
“We’re only investing in ed tech shows,” he said. “Pretty much all of our investment at this point is ed tech related.”
Merge used to describe itself as an augmented and virtual reality toy company. Now they describe themselves as an experiential learning company.
The increase in revenue hasn’t led to a larger staff though. The company is roughly the same size as it was a year ago. But to support the burgeoning growth globally means they will soon need to make big choices. Syndey is in a timezone 18 hours ahead of San Antonio, after all.
“You wait till it hurts [in startups],” said Trickett “Then you wait till it becomes excruciating. Then you wait a little more, then you do something about it.”
Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.