It isn’t easy being a parent in today’s hi-tech world. With smartphones and tablets in households, kids have more and more excuses to spend their afternoons staring at a screen.

“Times are changing,” says Neo Hsiung, the CEO of Neobear, an early education startup based in Shanghai. “It’s not possible to prevent your child from playing with an iPad.”

“But AR technology can let [your child] experience multimedia entertainment without having them stare at a screen for a long period of time,” he says. “If you want to play with AR, you have to interact with physical objects.”

Neobear believes it can create engaging educational experiences without turning kids into couch potatoes by using augmented reality.

Last month, the company launched the AR Globe, its latest AR product, which lets children interact with animated objects on a physical globe via an app. By clicking and moving around a smartphone or tablet, kids can learn about animals that they find roaming around the globe or pull apart different layers of the Earth. The idea is to leverage AR to create more interesting educational experiences for kids without requiring them to sit still and stare at a screen, says Mr. Hsiung.

“Our first reaction was that the traditional globe is just about seeing different countries,” says Mr. Hsiung. “But with a virtual globe overlaid on it, we can do a lot of things. We can throw a lot of little animals on the it, […]  you can cut open the globe like a watermelon, […]  you’ll see boats on the ocean, sailing back and forth.”

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Neobear’s AR Globe

Neobear began developing AR products in 2012, one of the few education companies leveraging AR technology at the time. Creating AR products for children comes with its own host of unique challenges, such as designing hardware that’s appropriate for children. For children ages 2 to 6 or Neobear’s target age group, tablets can be too heavy. It’s also easy for children to accidentally block the camera which is needed for AR functions.

To remedy that issue, Neobear developed the “Magnifier NEO”, a magnifying glass-shaped device that lets kids discover animations overlaying the real world. The company also plans to launch a hardware platform for small to medium hardware developers in October or November, according to Mr. Hsiung.

“For the past few years, educating users has been a very exhausting task,” says Mr. Hsiung. Thanks to Pokemon Go, however, explaining what augmented reality is to parents has become a lot easier, he says.

The success and popularity of Pokemon Go has thrust augmented reality into the limelight, even in China where the app is currently unavailable. AR is not a new technology by any means but so far it’s mainly been applied in non-consumer contexts, such as logistics and manufacturing. However, as the technology matures and becomes less expensive, that might change – something tech giants like Microsoft are betting on.

According to AR/VR and mobile games consulting firm Digi-Capital, the augmented reality market value is estimated to reach $90 billion USD by 2020.

Image credit: Neobear