Exploring New Worlds
Rukmini Rao June 24, 2019
IT was during late 2016 that Sai Krishna V.K. and Ajay P.V., old neighbours and family friends from Chennai, reconnected over their common interest in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Small chats turned into a big idea, eventually resulting in them setting up Scapic, a cloud computing platform based on Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The aim is to make augmented and virtual reality experience compatible across platforms and allow its use through a Web browser.
Sai is a Stanford graduate and a serial entrepreneur with two start-ups under his belt - Aeriem (education tech) and Supertext (AI assistant). Ajay is an engineer with experience in Internet of Things. He was a member of the development team of AR/VR start-up Gridraster. "When we reconnected, we started talking about AR and VR, the usual rants about the space, why people are not using it enough?," says Ajay. With his experience in popular game engines like Unreal and Unity at Gridraster and Sai's aspiration to make such content creation possible for those who have no knowledge of game engines, coding or development, an idea was born to build a simple platform for AR/VR experience.
Completely bootstrapped in the beginning, the early prototype of Scapic AR/VR editor started taking shape in 2017 with Sai, Ajay and Akash Kuttappa, the current head of products, working out of a co-working space in Bengaluru. "Since it was a co-working space, the watchman wanted us to leave by 9.30 pm so he could lock. We had to convince him that we needed to work all night. We would sleep on the floors," recalls Ajay. Research into the existing AR/VR landscape and adoption problems gave them clarity on what the start-up would do and its commercial viability.
Ajay says that though AR/VR is the next spectrum of computing, adoption is low as it is difficult to create content. "Think of website creation 10 years ago. HTML, CSS, Java, PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) servers, hosting data bases? too much technical complexity was involved. Today, you can go to WordPress, Wix or Squarespace and set up a website without knowing any of these technologies or coding," says Ajay. Scapic enables content creation in AR/VR by anyone.
The other problem was compatibility. Today, to experience most AR/VR content, one has to download apps, which are not inter-platform compatible. Take, for example, Samsung VR, Windows Mixed Reality, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and even two of Google's platforms, Cardboard and Daydream, which are not compatible with each other, says Ajay. Taking the Web browser route was Scapic's answer to this problem.
Scapic allows user to create AR/VR, 360-degree, three dimensional, mixed reality content, all bundled under extended reality (XR) on the browser without the hassles of coding. Using browser-based drag and drop tools, and adding elements, users can create content with the output being a Web link that existing browsers like Chrome and Mozilla can render. So, there is no need to have a specific app. "The fact that it is on the browser makes it naturally cross-compatible. We work with Google's Chrome team and Mozilla's Firefox to build on top of the open APIs (application programming interfaces) to work on all devices that can support a browser," says Ajay .
Scapic's beta version of the product was ready by September 2017, and with that in hand, the co-founders hit the market to raise funds. With clarity on product, target customers and a few paid clients for whom the start-up had built customised solutions, they closed their seed round of funding with Axilor Ventures and Speciale Invest ($500,000) in December of the same year. The investment was largely used to build a commercial version.
Asutosh Upadhyay, Head of Programs, Axilor, says that with immersive technologies poised to transform entertainment and influence multiple domains, Scapic empowers AR/VR creation in a lucid manner, for non-developers and creatives. "With a differentiated play on WebVR, Scapic is a frontrunner in the space and set for a global play," he says.
Scapic's first customer was a real estate player in Bengaluru who wanted to showcase its construction at a real estate conference in Italy. Scapic built a VR experience, which was shown with Google Cardboard. For Airbus, they are creating a simulation platform to be used by technicians. They also built an AR experience for Sony's Kapil Sharma show. Around 1 million users experienced it on their app; one could 'bring' the comedian-host home and click selfies. The start-up has also worked on marketing campaigns of movies such as Andhadhun and Bumblebee. Hotstar, too, has recently roped in the company. In e-commerce, it provides AR experience to Flipkart, Myntra and Celio. The company also has enterprise clients such as Wipro and Accenture.
Scapic is currently working on a licensing model with enterprise customers; the DIY version is currently free. Once the number of templates on their platform increases, the start-up plans to tweak the DIY version into a 'freemium' or a pay-per-use model.
Globally, Scapic competes with Amazon's Sumerian, Vizor and Mirra. According a report by Zion Market Research, the global AR/VR market was valued around $26.7 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $815 billion by 2025, a compounded annual growth rate of over 63 per cent.
Ajay says that a strong foundation of inclusive AR and VR experience has already been laid by apps like Instagram and Snapchat with their filters. With both Android and iOS enabling the core AR/VR technology on their devices, he feels that the market is too big for any one player to dominate. The next leg of evolution in AR/VR would be mass adoption wearable devices.