The constant advancements in emerging technologies are bringing change to the digital and technological landscape. Technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are becoming new drivers for businesses and companies which are in creative fields utilizing AR/VR technologies to innovate their business models. These technologies are also helping businesses in recognizing the changes that are taking place in the industry and will assist them to make smarter and more creative decisions.
Paracosma is an Augmented and Virtual Reality Solutions Provider. It offers custom AR and VR Application Development and 3D Content Creation Services, including photorealistic models, Digital Twins and 360 video production and distribution services. The company was founded at the start of 2016, just when VR headsets became commercially available from Oculus and HTC. The next year, Apple and Google launched their AR platforms. Since then, it has continually expanded capabilities around all aspects of 3D computing, as it came to understand there is a broader transition from 2D to 3D computing that extends well beyond VR and AR. “We have been very fortunate to surf the wave ahead of AR/VR adoption,” says Ken Ehrhart, Founder & CEO of Paracosma.
Below are the highlights of the interview conducted between Insights Success and Ken Ehrhart:
Take our readers through your journeys being at the helm of Paracosma.
Each year since our founding, we have grown dramatically. We have outpacing the broader AR/VR Markets, effectively growing our market share. We now have 75 employees across our US headquarters, Japan sales and technology office, and Nepal development center. Even last year, during the worst of the pandemic, we celebrated record high revenues each quarter and for the year overall. After implementing a policy to not layoff any employees during the lockdowns, we even increased our headcount over the course of last year.
Kindly elaborate the company’s vision “to make Virtual Realities better than Reality”.
As we consider the goals and potential for AR and VR, the most basic goal is to make Augmented and Virtual Reality as Good as Reality. The basic goal is to create AR/VR objects and scenes and experiences that are indistinguishable from real life. Yet, that does not bring the greatest benefit. The greatest benefit of AR/VR is in creating Virtual Worlds that are Better than Reality. In this case, Better might mean too expensive, impractical, dangerous, unethical, rare, or even impossible in real life. A good example is our VR surgery training. It is unethical to practice surgery on patients who do not need the surgery. However, we can practice surgery on virtual patients to improve real-world outcomes. Similarly, for industrial training we can recreate dangerous scenarios and train how to respond to those scenarios without creating real world fires, toxic spills, or explosions. We can also bring students to space or let them walk through an active volcano. In Nepal, we began capturing 360 video and creating VR models of Buddha’s birthplace and Hindu temples. But we quickly realized that in addition to showing remote visitors what these places look like today we can take VR users back to visit at the time of Buddha’s birth. This means that the opportunities for AR/VR experiences go beyond all the experiences you could possibly have in real life today, to all experiences that have happened in the past, or that could possibly be imagined.
Please list the popular AR/VR solutions that make your company standout from the competition.
One of our biggest clients is replacing studio photography with rendered images of scenes of photorealistic 3D models that our artists create by hand. These models are too complex to even be viewed in AR or VR. But they provide an example of the broader transition from 2D to 3D computing. We have also begun capturing synthetic images of environments and scenarios we create in virtual worlds inside simulation engines. These images are produced by the tens of thousands to be used as training data for machine-vision AI systems. Creating virtual worlds is really a core specialty of ours. With the pandemic, a growing part of our business is producing virtual events and virtual worlds for entertainment and business. We produced The Tokushima Movie Festival, a 3-day, 3-venue film festival in Japan, where we streamed films, seminars and an esports competition into VR. We have created virtual offices, including our own, for meetings; auditoriums for company meetings; also, conferences, receptions, afterparties, and more. This is one of our fastest growing businesses. For th training, in addition to VR surgery, we just entered the 4 year of working with one of the world’s largest HR and talent management companies. For their executive training events, we created a “Leader Library” in AR and VR as well as mobile and website apps, used to access over two hours of video holograms of 18 company leaders intimately discussing company culture, resolving challenges, reflecting on achievements. For AARP, we have created in VR more than 60 brain training games, as well as board games and other experiences.
What are the factors that affect the availability of Virtual Reality (VR) technology to the audience? And how can the gap between the audience and the VR Technology be reduced?
With the release of Oculus’ Quest 2 VR headset in the second half of 2020, we saw a real breakthrough, in terms of price, ease of use, comfort, performance and content. The Quest 2 was a big holiday hit and did not suffer from the supply chain issues we saw at the outset of the pandemic. This will be a breakthrough device for business users as well. For a small fraction of the cost of sending an employee to a tradeshow, conference or company offsite meeting, companies can send employees a VR headset that allows them to easily join company and industry events remotely and safely from home. Remote collaboration in VR and AR is poised to become a third option alongside teleconferencing and an eventual return to in-person offices.
How can AR/VR enhance Design, Production, and Training?
AR/VR allow you to experience 3D objects and 3D worlds in the same way we experience the real world. They allow you to easily view and understand information that might be hard to relate to on a piece of paper or 2D monitor. For example, one of our clients displays IoT (Internet of Things) data from throughout their customers’ facilities on 3D Digital Twin models of those facilities. Users see alerts and sensor data on the storage tank or machine triggering the alert. Similarly, one of our manufacturing clients, is replacing clipboards of paper checklists, with an AR application that can guide an engineer around a complex machine, guiding them with way-finder arrows and highlights, to inspection points or maintenance tasks. The user can photograph issues to send to the safety or maintenance head, or instantly start a 2-way video conference for support. This is really the adoption of what is known as Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution, facilitated by AR/VR.
According to you, which industries will be disrupted by AR/VR technology in the future?
I cannot image an industry which will not be disrupted by AR/VR technology. In many cases this is being accelerated by the pandemic. We have seen a huge shift from in-person activities to remote, virtual activities. As most workers and companies applaud the benefits of this new normal, we have seen an out-migration from city centers to suburbs, midsized cities and even across the country. Headquarter campuses have been sold, offices stand vacant. We have seen real estate patterns change. Catering, lunch-dining, dry cleaning, commuting, all have seen huge impacts. The entire business travel, tradeshow and conference industries have been completely altered. Just as adopting “casual Friday” impacted the clothing industry, how we dress is changing, at least from the waist down. Most of these are pandemic driven changes, but if you consider that VR will facilitate more effective, productive, realistic, immersive, and enjoyable alternatives to in-person meetings, then VR will facilitate and extend all these changes.
Can Virtual Reality be a Substitute for Real Life Experiences?
Yes. Many people will be able to experience things in VR that they would never have the chance to experience in real life. Others will try something for the first time virtually that they will then seek out in real life. Even with real life experiences, not everyone participates to the same degree. Some go to climb the rock walls in Yosemite, others to watch the climbers. Similarly, some people enjoy going to concerts or sporting events, while others enjoy concert videos or highlight reels. As VR improves, it will increasingly offer a middle ground between current media representations of real life and actual real-life experiences. Eventually, it will offer experiences beyond what is possible in real life. That is what we can already provide with VR training. We can provide training experiences in a repeatable, safe, way that would otherwise be impossible in real life.
What have you envisioned for your company’s future, in terms of expansion, introduction of new services, and talent acquisition?
To date, Paracosma has often played an invisible role behind the scenes. We are developing custom applications, new technologies and innovations, as well as 3D content, that then become part of our client’s products. Similarly, much of our sales are through channel partners, not direct. Increasingly we are bundling our accumulated expertise into “off the shelf” products and services. This will make our capabilities more accessible, more scalable and lower cost. We are building out our US executive team, for marketing, sales, business development, and partnering. And, we have accelerated hiring of talent to expand our teams.