India’s Extended Reality (XR) startups are booming
India’s early commitment to XR means there’s a chance for it to create affordable market-shaping innovations right from the start.
From Vadodara, a small (by Indian standards) city in Gujarat, a state on the western coast of India, concept designer and tech visionary Ankit Patel, and software science engineer Sanket Kale launched a new app that may shake the way we share content to the core.
Their creation, VueXR - shorthand for Visual User Experiences in Extended Reality - was released last summer. VueXR brings augmented extended reality (XR) - an umbrella category for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) - to iOS and Android smartphones across the world for the first time.
“Forget the passive way of sharing imagery and videos through which people have been communicating ideas so far. Everything can be done in three dimensions now, by simply downloading the app--free of charge--and hitting play on any XR content available in the app,” says VueXR chief operating officer (COO), Patel.
The app’s Unity3D plugin packs all 3D assets into a neat little package weighing about one percent of the size of a typical 360-degree video. It streams it on the go for viewers, enabling them to leverage the six degrees of freedom (6dof) given by these “new dimensions”. Viewers can decide whether to live the surreal experience of staring an augmented elephant standing in their room straight in the eye, or to use the app to look at real-life-scale architectural marvels on their exact GPS locations.
Creators can build their own XR media channel--think of a YouTube for XR--and share 3D-media content with the world in XR on Android, iOS, Web, and HMD devices without writing a single line of code.
A technological and entrepreneurial revolution is taking place in India right now
India is currently the third country in the world when it comes to attracting investment for technology transactions.
In July 2020 Indian telecommunications giant Reliance Jio raised $20 billion from Google and Facebook to work on a mixed reality headset. Earlier in June, M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, announced its local presence in India by opening an office in Bengaluru.
Last year, investments in Indian tech enabled startups to amass a revenue of $14 billion. Startups like Flipkart, Ola, and Zomato have already struck gold. Such is the technological frenzy in the colossal country to the south of Asia that many experts are predicting India will be the next XR Silicon Valley, Leslie Shannon, head of ecosystem and trend scouting at Nokia, included.
“I’m personally thrilled with what is happening in India,” Shannon says. “XR is a brand new technology, and the early movers have every opportunity to shape how it develops. By stimulating the early XR market, rather than waiting for others to do it, India has the chance to determine how XR develops for the world, not just for India, but for the whole world."
Shannon draws parallels between what made Silicon Valley into what it is today and what is going on in India: the “raw materials” of success, determination, mentoring, and investment. Size also matters. Home to over 1.3 billion people, nearly a fifth of the world's population, India is the second most populated country in the world, counting over 750 million active internet users, and, hence, boasting a uniquely sizable, but also affordable market.
“It’s impossible to ignore the accelerant effect of the provider Reliance Jio,” she says. Owned by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, who has a net worth of $89bn, Reliance Jio has made XR a priority and will be investing money and development support into it through their own XR glasses and through Tesseract, their XR developer program.
“All tech that comes out of Silicon Valley is generally sold at a price point that’s out of reach for the majority of the world for at least the first decade after launch. But India’s early commitment to XR means that there’s a chance for it to create affordable market-shaping innovations right from the start,” Shannon says.
VueXR’s platform is a stellar blueprint, a solid demonstration that you no longer need to go to Silicon Valley to scout XR-based innovation.
“It’s also an inspiration for other Indian coders that no, you don’t have to wait for products to come from Silicon Valley to get into XR. You can build your own and compete on the world stage right now.”
India is shaping the future of XR, and making it more accessible
For the first time, people can create and share their own smartphone-based XR experiences without coding. According to Shannon, this is the kind of approach that will be instrumental in getting the word out about XR in India and the wider global market.
On 12 May 2020, during the announcement of India's pandemic-related economic package, prime minister Narendra Modi cheerfully announced what has now become the new mantra for throngs of enterprising Indians: “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan”, which translates to '’self-reliant India’', and signals his (and his countrymen’s) ambition to make India "a bigger and more important part of the global economy".
From their “humble” hometown of Vadodara, as they describe it, Patel and VueXR’s CEO Kale, are echoing this mantra.
“We want to give the power of XR in the hands of the common man, and we actually mean it,” Kale says. For five years now he and Patel have been sitting in the office till 4 am, reading research papers and journals on AR and MR concepts and computer vision algorithms. When they first came to realize their ambitious dream, they didn’t even have high-end devices supporting augmented reality software development kits (like the majority of the people in India). That’s why they decided to go with something that “would allow creative people across the world to experience XR right there in their own smartphone without the need of any external hardware,” as Patel puts it.
“I can’t say for sure whether we have an XR Silicon Valley in this country, But, looking at the efforts and progress of XR startups in India, the industry professionals all around the world are saying the process has already begun,” says Kale.
“Soon, our notions of who influences whom and what the price points are for new tech will turn on their head,” Shannon predicts.
You may not even need to visit Silicon Valley to find the most imaginative and technically strong XR applications; a trip to Vadodara will suffice.
For more from Pando, sign up to our weekly newsletter.