Research Foundation News

March 6, 2018

Purdue-affiliated Explore Interactive seeks to teach children STEM concepts by immersing them in augmented reality

Explore1 Ella Easley (left) and Marinda Thompson work to complete a circuit challenge on Explore Interactive’s augmented reality platform. Explore Interactive is a Purdue University-affiliated startup that is preparing to launch a platform that helps children learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (Photo provided) Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Explore Interactive, a Purdue University-affiliated startup, is ready to launch a platform that allows children to use augmented reality via mobile devices to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics while having hands-on fun.

Explore Interactive’s vision is to make learning feel like play. Children simply point a mobile device such as a tablet or a smartphone at Explore! cards and begin discovering. A lesson on circuits show children how to make a circuit by connecting wires, batteries and a speaker, with sparks flashing on the screen as they connect. The augmented reality makes these items appear to be floating above their cards right on their table, letting children explore STEM concepts by doing rather than by reading or watching. For parents, Explore! channels their children’s love of device time toward absorbing important concepts, so as they grow older they understand and are excited by the real-world relevance of STEM.  

“The Explore platform walks children through the learning process in an engaging storyline so they have to actually internalize the concepts to execute the tasks,” Explore Interactive CEO Amanda Thompson says. “It makes the lesson come to life for children.”

Children can either complete challenges or build their own circuits in “create” mode. That allows students to touch, move and experiment with a concept and practice skills, maximizing concept mastery while enjoying themselves. Parents or teachers don’t have to worry about children losing or breaking parts. The Explore! cards are about 3 inches by 3 inches and are actually QR codes in disguise and eventually will cover biology, physics, engineering and more.

The lessons initially are geared toward children in grades 3 through 6. Explore Interactive plans to hold an event March 17 at the Wilmeth Active Learning Center, 610 Purdue Mall, on the Purdue Campus. Up to 50 children will be able to try the interactive lessons during three hour-long sessions running from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. People can sign up for the event at:

Explore2 Trey Easley (left) and Dante Thompson collaborate to connect a speaker within the circuit challenge of Explore Interactive’s augmented reality platform. The lessons initially are geared toward children in grades 3 through 6. (Photo provided) Download image

The goal is to have the Explore! cards available on a limited basis initially to some after-school programs and STEM fairs, and to gradually expand their availability. Explore Interactive plans to have the cards widely available as stocking stuffers by Christmas.

“We're aiming for the education-oriented parents of curious kids. They are the types of parents that are going to want their children to make the most of their device time,” Thompson says.

Explore Interactive leaders hope to eventually expand into school systems. Wesley Virt, Explore Interactive’s founder and chief operating officer, says he hopes the cards will make advanced lessons as available to inner-city schools as they are to affluent suburban school districts.

“We wanted to create something so that eventually every student could have equal access to quality instruction. My goal is to be able to help children engage in science, technology and mathematics at a cost-effective and safe manner,” he says.

The platform was Virt’s idea. He developed his startup while he was an undergraduate at Wabash College, by taking advantage of the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Purdue’s Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.

Virt started with the idea of making videos that would help children learn STEM concepts but decided creating something interactive would help children learn better.

“We wanted to find a way to use tactile-based learning methodologies to develop critical thinking through inquiry-based processes in a virtual lab,” he says.

Explore Interactive won a Black Award of $20,000 from the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund in December. Virt says the Foundry provided him with the help he needed to turn his idea into a business.

“Entrepreneurship is a lot more than just creating a product. You need people to listen to you. You need advice. You need mentors. You need resources. The Foundry provided me with all that,” he says.

About Purdue Foundry

The Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship whose professionals help Purdue innovators create startups. Managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, the Purdue Foundry was co-named a top recipient at the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Program by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Tom Coyne, 765-588-1044, 

 Amanda Thompson, 

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