The Planet3 team / Credit: Planet3

Former National Geographic President and CEO Tim Kelly is perhaps best known for leading Nat Geo into the digital age—away from a floundering print dominate model—as a globally recognized media brand. Today, Kelly is a Washington, D.C.-based startup entrepreneur working to develop education technology that, he believes, may have an even greater influence on the planet.

“an exploration-based learning platform … with rich, immersive environments that closely simulate the real world”

Kelly is the co-founder and CEO of D.C.-based Planet3, an early stage edtech startup focused on creating “immersive” science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) 3D lessons for K-12 students. These 3D lessons, may be better described as missions and/or adventures, he explained.

Planet3 is currently in the prototype development phase of its first software product, which it will begin to pilot in a number of middle schools in Nevada, D.C., California and Florida during the first quarter of 2016.

The plan is to then release a complete version of the product in the fall of 2016, said the Emmy Award-winning film producer and conservationist.

In the coming months, Planet3 will be moderately growing its team. The company will also establish a subscription pricing model after beta testing occurs in the spring. Prospective customers include public and private k-12 institutions.

Planet3 co-founders Vijay, Tim, and Albert (from left to right) / Credit: Planet3

Last week, the 35-employee strong Planet3 stepped out of “stealth mode” and confirmed that it had raised an impressive $10M Series A round led by Switch, a Nevada-based developer of data centers—representing the company’s first private investment round.

So, what will Planet3 look like for users/students? Kelly told DC Inno that the company’s software will be hardware agnostic—noting that mobile adoption will be a necessary and important development area.

“Planet3’s exploration-based learning platform will present students with rich, immersive environments that closely simulate the real world. Whether riding the eye of a hurricane or traveling to the edge of the known universe, students will explore these environments through a cohesive narrative combined with dynamic data and real world stories that bring science to life,” Kelly said.

Rather than being a virtual reality application, these immersive lessons will be designed to place students in the environments they are learning about. Kelly described it as a carefully engineered “first-person learning experience.” Virtual reality may be one medium that the company considers in the future, but it is far from a central theme currently.

teaching a new generation, prepared to take on the challenges of our rapidly changing world

He added that,“the advanced instructional design and sophisticated game mechanics of the Planet3 platform will provide personalized challenges and rewards to help nurture student curiosity about the planet. Teachers will find a comprehensive new learning tool to spark student interest in STEAM subjects that will deliver extensive analytics with strong learning outcomes.”

Because the Planet3 platform is intended to work on school computers, Kelly said that his team has devoted substantial time to creating a mobile platform full of applications that can “perform at a high level” while being run on devices that carry limited hardware specifications. Students will also be able to access Planet3 from their smartphones and tablets when they are not in class.

The Planet3 platform will be organized based on the grade of students accessing it and on different lessons for each subject area. It will carry heavy, game-based elements that will also be complimented by real-world data, realtime updates and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Planet3 landing page / Credit: screenshot

Kelly added that his edtech startup’s products will importantly take advantage of crowdsourced scientific information, and that it will present this content to students in a way they can easily understand and make use of. He did not specific, however, how this aspect of the software would be structured.

In January, DC Inno originally broke the news that Kelly was involved with a company called STEAM Engine Inc., after it raised $8 million from a group of undisclosed investors, according to an SEC filing. STEAM Engine Inc. was recently renamed Planet3 after having established offices in Las Vegas (nearby its Series A investors, Switch), Austin, D.C. and La Jolla, Calif.

Planet3’s two other founders were members of Kelly’s team at Nat Geo; CSO Albert Lin, a research scientist for the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology at the University of California, and CCO Vijay Lakshman, an interactive software developer who helped launch mega franchises The Elder Scrolls: Arena and Crash Bandicoot.

“In the future, if everyone who graduates from high school has a deeper understanding of science and earth as a complex system, we will have a new generation prepared to take on the challenges of our rapidly changing world—and in particular, how 10 billion people can live and prosper on a small, crowded planet,” said Kelly.