Newswise — HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Aug. 19, 2015) – The developers of an educational Internet search engine that they say could eventually revolutionize the search function have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund further refinements.
Dr. Philip Kovacs’ company, Vastly Inc., is seeking $250,000 through Kickstarter for its Complexity Engine educational Internet search engine, the patent-pending technologies for which are licensed from The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
Dr. Kovacs is a former associate education professor at UAH who pioneered development of the technologies while at the university. His collaborator, UAH Assistant Professor of English Dr. Ryan Weber, is managing communications for the young company.
Complexity Engine uses a sophisticated algorithm to search websites for content and delivers free, customized and age-appropriate reading materials to a user's computer. In an educational setting, it promises to give teachers, parents and students an efficient, affordable way to promote reading. Teachers and administrators can set parameters for the search results, and the reading experience can be either student self-directed or guided by the teacher.
“We are looking for $250,000 to move our prototype from beta to fully functioning, providing more accurate results and drawing on at least 50,000 websites,” says Dr. Kovacs, who recently left UAH to become vice president of education at Appleton Learning. “We need an additional full-time senior programmer, as well as a full-time junior programmer, to make that happen. The additional funding will also help us build out the analytic platform.”
Kickstarter has provided over $1.9 billion in early money to startups such as Oculus VR, developer of the Rift virtual reality headset. Oculus VR is now part of Facebook, following a $2 billion acquisition.
“Vastly’s search function will always be free,” Dr. Kovacs says, so a teacher in a Title I school working with English language learners will be able to go online, find content for struggling readers that actually interests them and use that content to teach those students to read.
“Likewise, a teacher of gifted middle school students whose library doesn’t have challenging enough material can go online with her class and find articles and information complex enough to keep the students engaged,” he says. “For schools, teachers, parents and students who want to track student growth in a manner superior to simple numbers and letters, there will be a subscription fee. At $3 a year, it will be a fraction of the cost spent on textbooks and standardized tests.”
Analytic data will be kept secure, and Vastly won’t ask for the types of data that many other software platforms seek out. The user will decide what information to give and what information to keep private.
The Kickstarter money will also fund build-out of Vastly Inc.’s Educational Genome Project.
“To understand this project, simply go to www.govastly.com and enter ‘Higgs Boson,’” Dr. Kovacs says. “The interactive concept map that you’ll see is the start of the ‘educational genome’ for Higgs Boson. I believe that our concept map results will change the nature of search on the Internet.”
A handful of schools piloted the software and improvements were made after each outing. The goal is to begin sales in fall of 2016.
“We want to raise the minimum amount of capital necessary to make the next round of improvements and then we want to start selling,” Dr. Kovacs says. “We are open to working with the right investor, but we are looking for a single source who shares our vision of what schools should look like and do over the next 50 years.”
Early funding for Complexity Engine came from a $35,000 award from the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama’s Alabama Launchpad startup competition and from a $10,000 development grant from the UAH Charger Innovation Fund
“There is no way we could be where we are without the help of dozens of people,” says Dr. Kovacs. “In particular, Kannan Grant, the director of UAH’s Office of Technology Commercialization, and Greg Sheck from the Alabama Launchpad competition. Both of those individuals either gave us great advice or connected us with people who have significantly shaped our business model.”