Kerala wants to be the AR/VR gateway to India

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on November 15, 2019

A Centre of Excellence in Extended Reality in Kochi in partnership with Unity Technologies could propel development in the state

God’s Own Country is opening its doors to virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality in a big way. “We want Kerala to be the AR/VR gateway to India,” said Tom Thomas, project director, Operations of Kochi Start-Up Mission (KSUM) addressing 1,100 odd delegates – mostly developers - at the Unite India 2019 summit.

The summit organised by Copenhagen-based Unity Technologies, creator of one of the most popular development platforms for gaming, 3D and mixed reality experiences, saw imagination defying showcases of how companies like Tech Mahindra, Byjus, Toonz Animation are using these emerging technologies. During the event, Kerala-based AR/VR start ups associated with KSUM like Embright Infotech and Build Next, among others shared their experiences with these technologies as well, highlighting both the opportunities and challenges.

For instance, Nikhil Chandran, founder and CEO of Tiltlabs, one of the early adopters of AR/VR technology, had to pivot from gaming to enterprise applications as the gaming landscape in India is still relatively small. Today, Chandran’s company builds training modules for enterprises in a VR environment using the Unity development engine. “For instance, we make MRI scanning demonstration videos for healthcare,” says Chandran.

A big challenge in scaling up, says Chandran is the lack of talent in the region – I had to go to Bangalore to search for developers, he says.

Things could change however, with the partnership that the Future Technologies Lab of KSUM has entered into with Unity Technologies. Together they have set up a Centre of Excellence in Extended Reality in Kerala which runs a six-month long XR accelerator to support enterprise development in AR, VR, MR and gaming. Selected start ups – and already there are five or six - get access to free Unity commercial licences, mentorship and training, networking with other Unity developers and funding grants from the Kerala government.

For Unity, which entered India officially in 2017 and has been growing its presence, Centres of Excellence are a major plank in its expansion strategy, said Ramesh Anumukonda, country manager, India Subcontinent for Unity. These could be with enterprises - for instance, Tata Elxsi has created one to reskill its employees; with universities – such as the one with Centurion University of Technology and Management in Orissa; or through incubators like KSUM.

“Creativity is the foundation for next wave of jobs,” said Jessica Lindl, global head of education for Unity pointing out how India is an important country for the company when it comes to skill development in AR/VR and 3D technologies. “We find much more motivated learners in India. Plus, the country already has a high number of people skilled in programming and in design,” she said, adding a third reason the company is investing in skill development here is that India could become a major outsourcing hub.

The company is not only skilling professionals but also engaging with schools and colleges, tapping early learners.

Interestingly, for Unity, whose engine powers 50 per cent of the world’s games, most of the usage of its platform in India is in non-gaming applications, which is relatively unique. Manufacturing, education, films and animation, automotive design is where it is finding more usage here.

Published on November 15, 2019

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