The Silicon Review
“We are seeing traction for AR and VR in part because of the wide diversity of applications and benefits across numerous industries.”
Technology is far more advanced than it was just a decade ago and there’s no denying that it will continue to do the same. Simulating virtual vision has now become a possibility owing to the ever-evolving capability of Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies (AR and VR). Using these alternative realities, businesses are simplifying the processes of various industrial activities and elevating them to a whole new level.
Around 2015-2016, 88 percent of the companies were using AR and VR but 63 percent did not have the resources to develop their own technology. With headquarters in California, Paracosma Inc. is a US corporation founded in 2016 as a VR content creation, technology development and services company to solve that problem. Paracosma has additional sales and technology offices in Tokyo and a primary research and development center in Kathmandu, Nepal. In addition to outsourced development, the company creates its own gaming, tourism, entertainment, and educational content.
Paracosma has worked on a range of projects and solutions from Consumer AR for viewing of retail products and VR for gaming to Enterprise adoption of AR for machine maintenance for manufacturing and VR for industrial and medical training.
Ken Ehrhart, Paracosma Inc. CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.
Q. Explain the current status of AR & VR and where do you stand in this future tech?
Paracosma was founded in the spring of 2016 around the same time as the consumer Oculus Rift and HTV Vive VR headsets were launched. As a company, we have grown and matured with the VR industry and the AR sector that emerged with Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore almost a year later. Now, four years later, AR & VR are no longer a ‘future tech’. AR and VR along with the broader category of 3D Imaging have already swept across all aspects of businesses. We have clients in the consumer, medical, enterprise, manufacturing, industrial, telecommunications, retail, social, distribution, and Internet-of-Things sectors among others. There are no segments of society or businesses that are not impacted by these technologies.
Q. How successful was your first project?
Our first client was a company in the HR and Talent Management industry, providing a broad array of SAAS (software-as-a-service) solutions for enterprise clients. We have been working with this company for three and a half years now. Our aim is to envision the future of Training and Talent Development and how AR, VR, and 360 video solutions will impact all areas of HR including recruiting, assessment, onboarding, compliance, diversity, and on-going training, and other employee development programs. We are conducting Research and Development and building case studies and platforms to address these areas. Over the next few years, we will look to roll out a series of comprehensive solutions, with our client taking the lead for sales in the Japanese market and Paracosma in the US.
Q. Brief us about the products and services Paracosma offers.
We are a multinational AR, VR, and 3D Service Provider, offering high-quality, low-cost outsourced solutions for AR and VR application development, 360 video production and distribution, and 3D content creation including photo-realistic modeling for photography replacement and Digital Twin creation. We began 2020 with some 75 full-time, in-house professionals including 45 Artists and 30 Engineers and Developers for AR, VR, 360 videos and spatial audio production. We are a US-headquartered company, with wholly-owned subsidiaries in Japan for sales and technical innovation and in Nepal for development and production. We work across all AR and VR platforms and in numerous sectors. While initially providing bespoke solutions to meet individual client requirements, we are increasingly developing platforms offering adaptable solutions for solving common problems.
Q. How can you provide an affordable and immersive experience without compromising the quality of the product?
Affordability is a reflection of the difficulty required to produce immersive 3D content. For the highest quality, specialization is required. You don’t just need a single generalist 3D Artist. For the best quality, you need a 3D modeler, a texture artist, shading and lighting artists, compositor, rigger, animator, etc. Having a large team of in-house specialists in Kathmandu, Nepal, allows us to keep costs accessible, while offices in Japan and the US allow us to work directly with our clients to meet and exceed their quality expectations for both engineering and design. This allows a very low-cost point of entry for clients to begin a Proof of Concept. That can then be developed into a Minimum Viable Product to prove Return on Investment. Followed by the deployment phase where we roll out a proven solution. Through each phase, clients can work, and progress with the same dedicated team at Paracosma that expands to meet their on-going scaling requirements.
Q. A person who performs well in a simulated environment, sometimes fails in real-life scenarios. Can we erase that thin line between virtual reality and the real environment by creating a more realistic ecosystem?
Simulated VR environments are as close to the real experience as possible. They have been shown to surpass lectures, reading, videos, and discussion in terms of both student understanding and retention. Furthermore, risky, hazardous, and expensive, scenarios can be practiced in VR that would be impossible to simulate in real life. For example, live surgery practice, without a medical need, is unethical but available to doctors and interns in VR. For the oil and gas industry, accidents, spills, fires, and explosions can be simulated in VR that cannot be safely or legally replicated in real life. So, in many respects, VR offers a training solution that is superior to real life.
In terms of realism, improved graphics and processing capability, as well as haptic interfaces for touch and feel, will increase realism and additionally reduce perceived differences between VR and real-life scenarios. But, the immersiveness of today’s solutions already triggers the brain in the same way that real experiences do and we do not require ultra-realism to gain training benefits that approach real-world practice.
Q. Addiction to the interactive environment is prevalent. Is there any solution to solve the existential crisis?
Many things in life have addictive potential. When things are new and exciting, they strongly appeal to addictive personalities. Certainly, someone who is now addicted to the stimulation of video games may carry that addiction over to VR use. But, it is not clear that VR is fostering new addicts. Indeed, as AR and VR become more prevalent, and as their use becomes more wide-ranging in purpose, the experience will also become more routine or even boring. I am not worried about widespread obsessive AR and VR use any more than I fear obsession in similar real-life activities.
Q. AR and VR techs are gaining traction in recent times. How versatile are the applications?
We are seeing traction for AR and VR in part because of the wide diversity of applications and benefits across numerous industries. Our projects in the diverse sectors noted above (from Consumer to Enterprise and Industrial) include VR Gaming and AR Marketing/Branding, Surgery Simulation, Holographic Video in AR & VR for Management Training, AR Machine Maintenance, Oil & Gas Handling Training, transmission of Live Avatars in 3D Environments, AR Modeling and Photography Replacement, Multi-User Brain Games for AR & VR, a white-label 360 Video Distribution Platform; and Digital Twins for data visualization. These are just some of the vast diversity of applications for AR & VR technology that we are delivering to clients. The scope of many of these projects is still narrow, but as we develop solutions and case studies, we are able to productize the results for broader deployment.
Q. Custom content creation can be expensive for AR and VR. As far as sustainability is concerned, what are the best practices for effective and engaging content creation?
As mentioned above, affordability is affected by the difficulty of achieving high-quality results in AR, VR, and 3D. As teams such as ours increase our experience and capability in what is essentially still a young, emerging field, the difficulty and expense recede. Furthermore, technology continues to rapidly advance, lowering costs and providing automated solutions for what have been manual processes. Many of our custom solutions are becoming productized as platforms. As the technology matures, the solutions become easier and free capacity, both with us and the client, to focus on unique creative elements and further innovation. That is the real value of outsourced AR & VR technology solutions, our clients can focus on their domain expertise without the need to replicate the skills that we have already been investing to build.
Q. How do you define scalability and what are the anticipated trends in VR and AR?
There are scalability issues on both the creation and consumption sides of the equation. As we have been discussing, content creation can scale as costs decline. Similarly, end-users’ access to AR & VR also will scale as the costs of headsets and glasses decline. Both content creation and distribution/access will benefit from continued technological advances. It is not a question of whether AR & VR will become pervasive; it is just a question of the timing. The systems are getting easier, more convenient and lower cost, while utility and value are increasing.
Q. Are there any regulations to protect the users from exploitation?
As with every new technology, there are broad questions of data privacy. AR & VR are in many ways uniquely personal, as they rely on ‘seeing’ a user’s environment to function properly. Furthermore, AR & VR applications can measure more intimate responses, such as eye-tracking and physiological responses, than a traditional smartphone or PC applications. Thus, there is a greater responsibility for data and personal privacy protections with AR & VR. But, premature over-regulation could impede progress with ‘inside-out’ tracking, visual hand tracking, eye tracking, and other “intrusive” technical features.
As cofounders with VR Voice of the ‘VR for Good’ Conference, now in its fourth year, we have a strong focus on social responsibility. Using AR and VR to improve the Real World is part of our Mission Statement. So, we are very mindful of the risk that the immersive character of VR could foster damage such as PTSD if experiences are too extreme. I don’t believe we yet know enough to regulate such risks. However, it is something that ethical stakeholders need to be mindful of and cautious about. There are so many beneficial aspects of AR & VR that we need to promote those benefits rather than fear the worst.
Q. Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
From the outset, Paracosma’s goal has been to symbiotically foster the growth of AR and VR as well as benefit from their growth. We are continuing to rapidly grow our team and expand the range of our capabilities, thereby lowering costs for our clients and increasing the scalability of our solutions. Ultimately, we have a long-term vision to become one of the largest, stand-alone, pure-play AR & VR companies.