Ever sat through a class where the teacher droned on about the Great Barrier Reef, while you wished you could be transported to its colourful corals that are home to countless sea creatures? Or maybe drifted off into an imaginary spotting of a woolly mammoth during a geography class? Tech startups and publishing houses are tying up to attempt to bring such flights of fantasy into the classroom with augmented and virtual reality .
Virtual reality (VR), or creating a virtual world that users can interact with, and augmented reality (AR) or the blending of the virtual and the real, are technologies that are transforming every sector from real estate and medicine to gaming and education.
The potential to change the ways children study is what has many startups and tech giants truly excited. Technology behemoth Google, for instance, has thrown its money and muscle behind Expeditions, virtual reality field trips for teachers to take students everywhere from Machu Pichu to the International Space Station, and says over a million students have experienced it.
Closer home, it’s school curriculum that is being augmented with this technology . Delhi-based Tushar A Amin and his friends began creating DIY kits for students based on science, technology, engineering and math learning at a maker space, but decided to get into augmented reality when they saw the possibilities. Their startup, Smartivity, founded in January 2015, made a beginning with AR colouring sheets. “Dinosaurs and giraffes come to life on being coloured,” says Amin. ” A child can tap on a section and the character will walk to that point. They can hear what it sounds like, read more about the character and participate in quizzes,” he explains. Available in 80 cities across 1,500 stores and online, Smartivityraised funds from 77-year-old S Chand Publishing last year, and will be working with them to create academic content.
Another publishing house that’s betting big on ARVR is 44-year-old Ratna Sagar, whose books are used by schools across the country . It is working closely with Chennai based startup Ingage Technolo gies to develop AR content for all subjects from pri mary school till Class 12.
“A book has a picture of the Himalayan range. Once you scan the picture using the app, the mountains rise in front of you.
Along with a 360-degree view of the range, the student can click on a moun tain and view re lated data, facts and vide os,” says Vijay Karunakaran, founder, Ingage, which is also working with Cambridge University Press.
While some startups are focussing on schools, others feel college students are better positioned to appreciate the technology . Raman Talwar started Simulanis in 2013 as an engineering consulting company but turned to training seeing the skill gap. He added ARVR to the portfolio in January 2015, and has been developing a range of education products. “We developed ARVR products to enable students to visualize technically challenging content and learn dif ficult concepts,” he says. The firm is targeting students from Classes 6 to 12, engineering students, and professionals across all age groups.F r o m viewing a 3D centrifugal pump to entering a virtual science laboratory to playing a 3D game to learn how to repair a car, specific modules have been created along with training partners, publishing houses and education companies.
Going to school
Some institutions have also got involved. IIIT-Hyderabad is working with Imaginate, a startup funded by the government, to develop VR content in education. Hemanth Satyanarayana, founder, Imaginate, is excited about his upcoming offering -a conferencing solution. “It is a virtual classroom setting using AR and VR. Participants and the speaker across locations can wear glasses and enter a virtual shared world. The speaker can use 3D modelling within the virtual room while interacting with participants. We have also integrated spatial audio where sounds can be presented from any direction to draw a listener’s attention and give them cues on where to look next,” he says.
Medicine and its complexities is another field that is likely to benefit from ARVR. Karunakaran of Ingage is working with two Ivy League schools, building AR content for the medical practice. ” AR can open up dimensions in surgery .One can view the anatomy , remove layers and parts to view minute details,” says Karunakaran.
Slow to change
Technology and education have always offered immense opportunity for transformation but the change is slow to come due to institutional inertia and lack of purchasing power. Entrepreneurs in the ARVR space are few and even fewer are trying their hand at education. “There is dearth of good quality con tent. The initial investment is quite high but as hardware gets better, people will invest,” said Parveez Masyam, MD, Xenium, an ARVR startup that is working with an international company to augment textbooks for primary school.
According to Goldman Sachs, the market for ARVR in education will touch $0.7 billion by 2025, several notches below gaming ($11.6 billion), events ($4.1 billion), entertainment, real estate and retail.
So, will people pay for a virtual trip inside the pyramids of Egypt?
Amin of Smartivity sees a very competitive market in education.Once a handful of schools invest in it, others will follow, he says.Karunakaran of Ingage is confident that VR glasses will soon be as ubiquitous as smartphones. “Like all technologies, the price will come down to a point where most people will be able to afford it,” he says.
Between AR and VR, it is the former that is expected to flourish.Dhanasree Molugu, investment analyst at Blume Ventures, says there is a lot of interest in the space and is optimistic about it becoming an integral part of education.”Eventually it will happen. There is a shift in the way in which education is being imparted and technology is core to this shift,” she says.
Just like the blackboard to whiteboard to smartboard shift happened over years, Satyanarayana of Imaginate is confident that ARVR will also be accepted. “Smart education needs good content and affordable hardware and it is going to take five years or more for this transition to happen,” he says.