Emerging Entrepreneurs

Transporting people to a virtual and augmented world

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on June 08, 2020 Published on June 08, 2020

Thirukumaran, Co-founder and COO, XR Labs

Srivatsan Jayasankar, Co-founder and CEO, XR Labs

A VR experience using XR Labs' product

XR Labs’ AR/VR products help firms in training, sales and marketing, and field support

Thirukumaran Saravanan was a quizzer. He was in his second year of a mechanical engineering course when he came across a question on virtual reality in one of the quizzes he participated in. He was also doing freelance work as a 3D animator and when one of his clients asked him to do something on augmented reality (AR), Thirukumaran says he readily agreed without knowing much about what it meant. He figured out how to build an AR and Virtual Reality (VR) application and by the next morning had a demo product ready. His client was impressed, says Thirukumaran.

This one incident was enough to convince him that the future lay in AR/VR as he found there were plenty of applications across industries and verticals. He was all of 19 years old when he turned an entrepreneur, having found his partner in Srivatsan Jayasankar, a mechanical engineering graduate from College of Engineering, Guindy. The two set up the company now known as XR Labs in 2015; XR standing for Extended Reality. Srivatsan is Co-founder and CEO, and Thirukumaran, Co-founder and COO.

“We wanted to be a big product and solutions player in the long-term spatial computing age, but in the short-term there are multiple use cases that can be solved by AR and VR,” says Thirukumaran, of XR Labs’ vision and strategy.

The trigger point

He recalls that he broke an equipment in the lab when he was in his first year of engineering and that equipment had not been replaced till the time he finished his course. That was also the trigger for them to come up with a training simulator using VR. They made some demo products and showed them around. This got them in touch with Gamesa, a leading wind turbine manufacturer, for which they built an immersive VR simulator for wind turbine to train their staff.

From then, says Thirukumaran, there has been no looking back, as the Chennai-based XR Labs started doing VR training simulators for various industries. Their clients include tractor manufacturer TAFE, Daimler, Hyundai, Michelin, Saint-Gobain, Tata Steel, Berger Paints, HCL, Ikea, L&T and Radiance Realty. “We have delivered more than 100 solutions for 10+ verticals,” says Thirukumaran.

XR Labs has done projects for the Chennai airport on training airside drivers, for the Nuclear Power Corporation to build simulators. The company also provided the AR/VR content for an ecopark in Chennai.

Three lines of business

According to Thirukumaran, the company has three lines of business – training, field support, and sales and marketing. The field support product as an AR app that will help technicians deal with problems in machines they are working on in a factory. The sales and marketing product, using AR/VR tools, helps sales and marketing personnel demonstrate to prospective customers, huge parts that they cannot physically carry with them. The biggest deal in this space, says Thirukumaran, was for Ikea that they got through a partner, to build a VR showroom for the furniture maker. This launched in Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait, where in a showroom people can use a VR headset and visualise and configure various Ikea products.

Thirukumaran says that the speed of adoption of AR/VR has picked up in the last couple of months thanks to the global shutdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “What we see today is what would have normally happened in 2022,” he adds. For instance, even conferences and expos are happening in the AR/VR world, where people can participate from multiple locations using the required headsets.

The company, he says, is working with a large car dealer in West Asia, where the budget earmarked for the showroom has been transferred to a virtual showroom project. “Businesses are rethinking their touch points with users,” he says, adding that this will lead to increased adoption of AR and VR.

Travel, especially international travel, will take a lot more time to normalise because of fears over Covid transmission. Thanks to this, there will be greater demand for all their three product lines, says Thirukumaran. The large IT companies are also seeing an opportunity in this space, he says, pointing out that this will be a major challenge for a start-up like theirs. But he is confident that the five years’ headstart they have had and the fact that they are exclusively focussed on the AR/VR space will hold them in good stead.

Eyes platform strategy

The company, he adds, is looking at a platform strategy, which allows users to create their own AR instruction manual specific to their requirement. He also anticipates a lot of AR/VR use in the defence sector, where huge sums are spent on areas such as marksmanship training. Training in the defence can be done with VR simulators, thus help cutting down expenses appreciably without compromising on the quality of training.

Also, with more youngsters entering the job market the skill development industry will see a big boost in use of AR and VR. The new entrants will need good personal training which can be imparted using VR.

And, once they start working, they will have a lot of questions and doubts. This can be solved using AR, says Thirukumaran.

Published on June 08, 2020
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