Cutting Education: Discussing Tech’s Role in Education with Samy Kamkar

Our recent collaboration with students in the Digital Storytelling class at USC Annenberg resulted in an augmented reality app that would change the way visitors experience the Los Angele Public Library.  If you haven’t heard about the ARchiveLAPL app yet, then we clearly haven’t been hyping it enough.  Get over to iTunes and check it out.  Working on this app has definitely made us even more aware of the importance of AR and new tech when it comes to education.  We turned to innovative engineer, drone expert, master hacker, and good friend, Samy Kamkar, to get his thoughts on the subject.

Samy has worn as many hats as anyone can in the tech world.  By the age of 17 he’d co-founded a unified communication company that raised over $24 million in private funding called Fonality.  He followed that up with innovations like SkyJack and Evercookie and has played pivotal roles in discovering mobile security flaws and privacy issues within major companies.  We could keep going, but what you really need to know is the guy’s a total badass.  What we wanted to know was what he thought about tech’s place in the future of education.

Augmented Reality: The Cutting Edge of Education

Augmented reality has that special something, that space-age allure that can turn heads toward a subject they might have ignored before.  According to Samy, “AR is pretty interesting to me in regards to education because it’s naturally a cool and intriguing concept. I’m personally a high school dropout and for me to actually spend time in an area means it has to have the right type of sparkle for me to focus my attention, and I’ve noticed almost anyone who looks into a screen to see the real world augmented in a half-real, half-virtual way, gets pretty excited.

That sparkle can go a long way, giving that bored student a reason to perk up.  Samy continues, “Hopefully it will impact learning simply by allowing information to be accessed much quicker and regardless of intent of users, for example learning about something that you wouldn’t necessarily have looked up yourself.

Drones: The New Teacher’s Pet

Samy may be best known for creating SkyJack, a custom drone that could hack nearby parrot drones, giving the SkyJack operator control over them.  Drones aren’t just up Samy’s alley, they’re in his airspace, so we wanted to know if this new tech is being utilized in educational settings.  According to Samy, “Drones are opening up some new areas in regards to autonomy and how we can automate areas of our lives. For one, I see the exploration and mapping that drones are doing to become more mainstream which is simply going to provide people with more up to date information in all sorts of areas that were previously more expensive to reach.

The application in education is practically endless.  Samy continues, “The technology of drones themselves is constantly being developed and as we explore new ways of working with these machines, the fact that we need to continue to build and improve these systems will open up some pretty cool areas in education from physics to sensing and more importantly energy.

Mobile Security: Safety in the Classroom

There’s no question that technology is going to play a huge role in classrooms in the future.  In fact, in a lot of ways it already is.  More mobile devices are being worked into curriculum and students are relying on these devices to not only help them do their schoolwork but to store important information as well.  For us, this raises questions about security especially in light of discoveries that Samy has made himself.  In 2011, Samy discovered that most mobile devices constantly sent GPS coordinates even when turned off.  He’s also discovered major flaws in PHP programming that could have been used to hack major banks and social accounts.

So we wanted to know if he thought student security was a serious issue in the mobile age. “With every advance in technology, there are potential dangers, but I think what’s most exciting is that with the potential dangers that are explored, it simply requires use to produce more advanced technologies in the area of security — an area we haven’t explored as well as we should have,” he says. “We’re constantly learning about systems that have been in place for years that have had lax security simply because no one was looking and as the ability to look, to see, and to explore becomes more available, it will help enlist people to advance the security around areas we clearly weren’t thinking about.

If you want to keep up with Samy’s latest discoveries, innovations, and speaking engagements you can check out his website at and follow him on twitter.  If you want to know more about the latest developments with our Los Angeles mobile development shop you can always follow us on twitter as well.

Photo Credits:,,

Pics From the LA Public Library ARchive Panel Discussion

On November 1st, Neon Roots joined USC Professor Robert Hernandez along with students in his Digital Storytelling class and the LA Public Library’s Special Collection Librarian, Ani Boyadjian, to discuss the creation of the ARchive app.

The panel discussion “Augmented Reality in the Library” was a blast and we had a great time demonstrating how augmented reality can help enhance education and the collaborative process that brought the ARchiveLAPL app to life.  You can download the app HERE.

Experiments in Excellence: The Results of Neon Roots’ GamingPTO

What makes it possible for people to excel? We run an agile development shop in the highly competitive Los Angeles market, so there isn’t room for anything except the best work from our teams. We’ve found three ingredients that help our developers be successful and go beyond their limits:

  1. Strong minds. We work hard to keep our developers happy with motivational exercises.
  2. Strong bodies. Our personal chef makes sure they are eating healthy and staying in good physical condition.
  3. Time to recharge. Predictable time off (PTO) has been essential in clearing out the old data and rebooting their internal systems to handle the next big thing.

Inspired by some experimental approaches to productivity at Boston Consulting Group, we brought all three of these elements together last year for our first GamingPTO event, and the results have been pretty spectacular.

Defining GamingPTO

GamingPTO combined all the motivational aspects of gamification, the health benefits of time off, and a protected space away from market pressures so developers could really let their imagination soar. At the same time, there’s nothing like a little healthy competition to spark their drive to win and really give it everything they’ve got. We divided our designers and developers into four teams. Each team was pitted in a competition to build the best game they could imagine.

Each month, the teams would take off one to two days to focus on building their game internally, then two rounds of elimination would select the best of the best. The first round was voted by peer review and the second by external judges. The prize was having the winning game fully developed and published by Neon Roots.

There is a great deal of scholarship about why games are so effective at motivating people to concentrate and excel. Basically, games meet our most basic needs for self-determination, mastery of skills, and relatedness to others who we value. These are internally-driven desires and no amount of external rewards can compare in effectiveness.

During our GamingPTO event, our team members got to learn new languages like Unity 3D while exploring all the latest technologies in mobile app dev, like augmented reality. They were able to fully investigate artistic styles they normally wouldn’t have access to via external/client projects.

Let the Games Begin

Gaming is serious business, and our developers took it to a whole new level. Here is what our teams came up with:

  • Cataclysm
    (Team Members: Nikita, Bradley, Omar and Gabriel) – This arcade-style game was all about changing the world, with a genre-crossing design unlike anything on the market.
  • Wastemaster
    (Team Members: Damian, Rosina, Silvana and Iuva) – Recycling is becoming more critical than ever to preserve the Earth for the next generation. This puzzler was designed to help younger gamers make the right choices for their future.
  • Jack Bark
    (Team Members: Robert, Mojo, Patrick and Oscar) – Who speaks for the trees? Jack does. This runner, along the lines of Temple Run, teaches valuable skills and focuses on keeping our environment clean and safe.
  • WingSmash
    (Team Members: Martin and Matis) – Mobile gaming is where all the action is, and this multiplayer balloon fight brings the action to you. It’s a casual brawl that draws you in and keeps the party going with virtual currency for unlimited character enhancements.

More Than Just a Game

Our entire GamingPTO event was always intended to be about much more than games. It involved asking the best from our developers. It was about giving them to tools to go farther and achieve more than they imagined possible. That’s what it takes to excel in today’s competitive world of app development.

Putting Money Where Our Mouths Are: USKey and the Importance of Scholarship

Nothing excites us more at Neon Roots than big ideas.  We’re big idea people ourselves, always have been.  It’s what’s helped us become one of the premiere mobile/web development shops in Los Angeles.   But everyone has to start somewhere, and we’re proud that our successes have allowed us to reinvest in young, innovative entrepreneurs who find themselves exactly where we once were.  The minds behind USKey are definitely those entrepreneurs.

We helped sponsor this summer’s RECESS tour and presented the “Best Idea Not Yet Built” with a FREE Rootstrap session.  We basically looked at it as a 20K scholarship to help some rising tech stars that needed a boost to really get their product moving.   If we’re passionate about big ideas, we’re just as passionate about sharing our knowledge and resources and plan to continue to volunteer our time to projects we’re passionate about while extending a hand to those bright minds that are going to make a serious impact in the world of tech.

We were incredibly impressed with the women behind USKey and think you will be, too.  Check out the video to learn more about their product and how Rootstrap is helping it become a reality.

Ben: “Rootstrap is designed to help entrepreneurs and Product Owners flesh out their big idea, turn it into something that is feasible from an MVP standpoint, which means focusing on building the minimum versus the maximum.”
Delara: “USKey is a really unique way to deter laptop theft.”
Danee: “With theft on the rise, people need a better way to protect their computers.”
Delara: “It’s really easy to plug-in. You can walk away from your laptop and if someone tries to move it, it will sound an alarm and alert everyone that something is going on.”
Ben: “What the Rootstrap process entails is creating a roadmap or blueprint so Product Owners can focus on the important part of building their product. That’s where we come in and that’s where our scholarship really provides value to Product Owners in that we help them take something that conceptually might be possible and actually is possible into practice.”
Danee: “I think the deliverables that they gave us will be invaluable in moving forward. We definitely have everything we need to go out and develop a mobile application and a mobile web site and we’re ready to start fully fleshing out what our concept is going to be, busting out our MVP and then going out to a developer and actually getting this application and this website on the road.”
Ben: “Possibly the most important thing when working on a product is knowing that the passion by the Product Owners is there and exists and that they’re really determined to create something really valuable for the end user. This is something we want to move forward with and provide them with a really clear roadmap so they can go build their product.”

Neon Roots Overhauls Kin Community Website

At Neon Roots, we love working with innovators and game-changers.  That’s why we’re so happy to be able to help Kin Community relaunch their website with a new layout and design that would be both visually appealing and simple for their users to navigate.








If you’re unfamiliar with Kin Community, you should do yourself a favor and check them out at  Based in Santa Monica, Kin Community’s mission is to “make women feel connected, inspired and empowered through high-quality women’s lifestyle content.”  They do this through original lifestyle videos and Emmy award-winning scripted series that reach women in an honest, inspiring, and though-provoking way.

Kin Community has already become the number one women’s multi-channel network on YouTube, delivering high-quality content focused on health, food, parenting, beauty, and entertainment.  Through this hugely popular network of channels they’ve become a go-to for major brands to raise revenue through custom content.


























This has included teaming with Diet Pepsi for their “Share the Love” campaign during Valentine’s Day.  They produced a branded series with a trademark bubbly and light-hearted personality that was put in front of 9 million unique viewers through Kin Community’s YouTube network, social media, and blog presence.

They’ve also partnered with T-Mobile to raise awareness of new smartphone devices through their YouTube channels.  These videos showed the ease of using the new devices in everyday life and were able to reach over one million views in only two months.

























As Los Angeles web designers, we’re always looking to help startups build their online presence. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.

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