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Smart glasses will replace smartphones in next 4-5 yrs

With hardware leaders like Apple and price leaders like Jio entering the fray with social content leaders like Meta investing in experiences, we will see the Metaverse play out at a consumer level for everyday experiences, says Sangram Surve, MD,Think WhyNot

Sangram Surve, Managing Director, Think WhyNot

Sangram Surve, Managing Director, Think WhyNot

He is an entrepreneur, innovator, and global thought leader in Augmented and Virtual Reality, in his own rights, leading Think WhyNot Group, which operates in advertising and film production through its two businesses: Think WhyNot Advertising and Twist Studio. He currently focuses on Metaverse ecosystem development and provides Meta-related services in the APAC market. He is also the founder-director and partner of Happy Minds Entertainment, a film production company, and co-hosts Guts Glory Story, a weekly interview show for industry leaders. Under his leadership, Think WhyNot has become a leading player in marketing books and pioneering marketing in the publishing domain. For more than a decade, he has worked across various domains, including advertising, activations, film, branded content, travel, and television. He has also created several intellectual properties, including travel shows, music albums, online IPs, and Litomania, India’s first popular literature festival. Speaking to Bizz Buzz exclusively, Sangram Surve, Managing Director of Think WhyNot, spoke at length on wide ranging issues including how augmented reality used in education to improve learning outcomes, how artists and creators are using the Metaverse to develop new digital art forms and immersive experiences and so on.

How is virtual reality being used across industries?

Virtual reality as a technology is actively used both in B2B and B2C segments. It has greater applications in B2B than in B2C as of today. The dominant consumer segment where it’s used actively is in gaming and entertainment, where early tech adopters buy VR devices. But that apart, it is predominantly a B2B play today. The most dominant uses are healthcare, industrial maintenance, architecture and real estate, education and training, retail, and automotive. Education is also being looked into for a broader Segway into consumer adoption, with big tech looking to push this technology across schools. Most use cases are around simulating the actual environment and overcoming the limitation of not being there physically in the real environment. A big evolution is expected in these devices to push them for mass consumer adoption as wearables.

What are some of the latest advancements in augmented reality technology?

The common association with AR is seeing doggy years in Snapchat or funny face filters on Instagram. Another association we have with AR is the Pokemon Go App which became a rage. Unfortunately, advanced features like body tracking, face tracking, etc., require expensive gaming devices. The good news is that everything that needed advanced features like body tracking earlier found only on expensive Playstation and Xbox devices is now available on your phones on Instagram, Snapchat, and globally, on TikTok. The AR features on Instagram and Chat can give you funny face filters and trigger interesting world effects, target tracking effects, body tracking, location, landmark, or geo-targeted effects. This means the real world can be layered by many multi-media messaging that can be triggered on-demand. So a 2D poster can start talking back to you, an outdoor hoarding can open up a portal that will take you into another world, or an innocent print ad can open a gamified experience. Games earlier possible only on Xbox and Playstation because of its body tracking capabilities can now be played on your Instagram or Snapchat. You can give discount codes triggered by a precise geographic location. You can see an inspirational wish on Independence Day just outside Red Fort. The specific pincode triggers the effect. All these advancements are being explored on Social Apps, which have the advantage of having a large distribution just because of their large base.

How is augmented reality used in education to improve learning outcomes?

Augmented reality can significantly enhance educational experiences. For example, a simple heart image in a science textbook can trigger a 3D picture of the heart, which the student can manipulate, rotate, zoom in or out, and explore at will. One of the big tech players has already up with the government to make an Augmented Reality curriculum on the AICTE site – Swayam in Hindi. We will see AR coming up as an elective in schools and colleges. Many concepts in Science and Maths are being converted into AR effects to make available the advantage of interactive learning to smaller schools in remote places that do not have physical labs or subscriptions to expensive edtech platforms.

What are some of the most exciting virtual reality games and experiences currently available?

There are many great VR experiences available on advanced VR devices. Beat Saber is one of the most popular ones. In Beat Saber, you have two light sabres with which you need to slice through obstacles charging at you. All this is done on beats and rhythmic music and involves moving your whole body. Many first-person shooter games are available, making your erstwhile PlayStation and Xbox experience more fun and immersive. You have Hollywood-themed games earlier available on Playstation, now on VR – like Resident Evil and Ironman. Then there is Tripp - a very immersive mediation app, which does a fairly good job at giving you an otherworld experience and calming you down. There is a whole world of Youtube VR, which includes 360 videos on travel, rollercoaster rides, concerts, etc. Some of these experiences take you there – whether it's the Himalayan peaks or the forests of the Amazon. Some apps simulate the theatre experience where you can watch a movie on a big screen with your friend. You can even watch Netflix on a big screen within a VR device. Lastly, common spaces mix VR and social experiences, where you can interact with your friends (through their avatars) in these immersive spaces. Meta's Horizon Worlds is one such experience where you can work and collaborate with. Colleagues in a shared immersive space.

What impact will the rise of virtual reality have on the future of remote work?

Many big tech players are betting on the future of remote work to be immersive. Meta's Horizons Worlds is one such attempt. You will work in an immersive 3D environment where you will collaborate with your colleagues through their avatars. You can mirror your physical computer in this workspace and use a whiteboard to scribble your ideas, brainstorm, and jam with your colleagues. But with remote work losing flavour, this trend will take some time. The recent experience also needs to be more seamless for mass consumer adoption.

What are the potential long-term health effects of using virtual reality headsets for extended periods?

Current research is limited to studying any long-term impact of virtual reality headsets on health. But some VR users report motion sickness within VR experiences, which have much motion. Some also experience strain on the eyes from prolonged use of headsets. But, there is limited research on the long-term impact of VR headsets on health.

What do you see as how Metaverse can or may transform how we live, work, and play?

We see the transformation of consumer experiences in two-three ways – firstly, the content will evolve from its current video trend to immersive content. This will happen behind an emerging ecosystem of AR and, later, VR creators. Most big tech companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars educating the next generation of creators to create immersive content. Apps to make immersive content, which is 3D experiences. AR effects will become increasingly DIY, supported by the generative AI trend. Lastly, we will start pivoting wearables. When I say wearables, AR and VR experiences will merge into a single device. AR glasses will become lighter, more user-friendly, and more affordable. Case in point – Jio glasses, which were announced in the recent past, were supposed to be retailing at Rs 15,000. With hardware leaders like Apple and price leaders like Jio entering the fray with social content leaders like Meta investing in experiences, we will see the Metaverse play out at a consumer level for everyday experiences. Phones will be replaced by light wearable glasses, unleashing a host of multi-media, AR, and VR experiences. This, though, is 4-5 years away.

How are major tech companies like Meta and Microsoft investing in the Metaverse, and what are their goals for this emerging technology?

Investments from Big Tech are in a variety of initiatives. Microsoft has already moved to acquire Activision, giving it a big advantage in immersive content. It already owns XBox and has an advanced AR product in the hololens. Meta's investments are more diverse. Let's start with hardware - expect 2-3 interactions more of VR devices and AR glasses, capable of replacing phones by 2027. Second, they continue pushing development on Spark AR - their platform to push AR effects on phones. Third, they have launched the Immersive Learning Academy - to push AR education and create millions of creative technologists who will power the next generation of immersive content. And lastly, they are driving aggressive use cases in AR and VR to demonstrate these technologies to businesses.

How are artists and creators using the Metaverse to develop new digital art forms and immersive experiences?

Creative Technologists are already becoming early adopters of AR and VR. Globally, the earliest adopters of AR have been museums and art galleries. The government of Singapore has partnered with several traditional artists and creative technologists to bring art alive through augmented reality. This initiative was called the Art Imagine. Similar efforts have happened in Europe in leading museums. In our work, we have recently helped a luxury rug brand enter the Metaverse by leveraging their existing rug designs and giving them a Webb 3.0 edge. Each rug carries a painting of the same design, which comes alive in augmented reality and can be triggered through your phone. The buyer of the rug gets the rug, the painting, the AR experience, and an NFT for the same. The rugs are poised to command a 75 per cent premium thanks to the Web 3.0 extension.

Ritwik Mukherjee
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