With Hotstar set to stream the popular Indian Premier League in Virtual Reality (VR) this year, immersive technology – which includes both Augmented Reality (AR) and VR – seems to be catching on in India. The global AR/VR market could potentially be worth $100-120 billion by 2021; Estimates predict a spend of $17.8 billion in 2018, almost double the amount that was invested in the sector last year.
India’s own AR/VR industry is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 76 per cent over the next five years. The advent of high-speed mobile communications in the form of 4G has been key to this growth. Extremely low data rates which make mobile broadband accessible to nearly everyone at any instant provide a perfect platform which AR/VR can take advantage of.
While the focus for now remains on VR gaming and entertainment through peripherals such as the Oculus and Samsung Gear, there is increasing interest in business applications for the technology. More than a hundred AR/VR start-ups have emerged in India over the last two years, developing applications for industries ranging from education to defence to training and healthcare.
For instance, a repurposed Oculus could overlay instructions or blueprints over a user’s field of view, allowing for real-time repair and maintenance. Another use-case can be seen with KFC’s VR-based training game that takes users through the basics of cooking chicken the Colonel Sanders way. Although not a professionally applicable module, it was reported to have heightened employee engagement.
Other applications could include immersive virtual environments that train patients how to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to manage their pain. Real-life scenarios could be simulated without any actual danger to the patient. Hospitals in Bengaluru are using VR’s immersive videos to distract patients from painful physiotherapy procedures, reducing perceived pain by almost 40 per cent.
Hyderabad-based Imaginate has developed ShootAR, an AR simulator used by the Army in training exercises. Another one of their applications, LivAR, renders accurate, real-time 3D models of the liver in the surgeon’s field of view making it easier to perform open liver surgeries.
VR could also help doctors diagnose conditions better; an example of this is Mumbai-based InceptionX, a start-up which created a VR vertigo-attack experience for doctors. The first-hand experience helps doctors empathise with the patient and offer better care.
Schools and colleges could use VR to allow collaborative learning for visually intensive courses such as architecture design. History courses could use accurately-modelled historical sites which allow students to ‘visit’ them; the Indian embassy in Netherlands is already using similar technology to offer tourists a tour of Indian monuments.
Children with dyslexia, autism, ADHD or other learning challenges could use VR as an alternative learning medium. Besides the increased retention and engagement that VR offers, developers could integrate a virtual ‘friend’ who would help these children with valuable social skills such as eye contact and verbal interaction.
The nascent industry faces perception challenges. Despite promising applications, the country’s top 15 start-ups have raised just under $3 million in funding due to a perceived lack of demand. For their part, consumers still see AR/VR as an unaffordable luxury.
India has already laid the foundations with the Digital India programme and 5G’s anticipated rollout; a little support would allow our emerging immersive reality ecosystem to fully blossom. Incubation programmes, such as the Karnataka government’s push to promote research by providing incubation, mentoring, funding and opportunities for start-ups to work with the state’s departments could be the way forward allowing accessible immersive technology to emerge.
Keywords: VR in India, Virtual Reality India, Immersive Tech India, Augmented Reality India