He is an entrepreneur, innovator and global thought leader in the field of augmented and virtual reality and leads the Think WhyNot Group, which is active in advertising and film production with its two divisions, Think WhyNot Advertising and Twist Studio. He is currently focused on developing the Metaverse ecosystem and providing 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-host of Gut’s Glory Story, a weekly interview show for industry leaders. Under his leadership, Think WhyNot has grown into a leading player in book marketing and pioneering publishing marketing. For more than a decade he has worked in a variety of fields including advertising, activations, film, branded content, travel and television. He has also created several intellectual property rights including travel shows, music albums, online IPs and Litomania, India’s first popular literature festival. In an exclusive chat with Bizz Buzz, Sangram Surve, Managing Director of Think WhyNot, spoke at length about wide-ranging topics including how augmented reality is being used in education to improve learning outcomes, how artists and creators are using the Metaverse to create new digital art forms and immersive develop experiences and so on.
How is virtual reality used across industries?
Virtual reality as a technology is actively used in both the B2B and B2C segments. Today it has greater applications in B2B than in B2C. The dominant consumer segment where it is actively used is gaming and entertainment, where early tech adopters are buying VR devices. But other than that, today it’s mostly a B2B game. The main uses are healthcare, industrial maintenance, architecture and real estate, education and training, retail and the automotive industry. Education is also being explored for wider Segway consumer adoption, with Big Tech looking to bring this technology to schools. Most use cases revolve around simulating the actual environment and overcoming the limitation of not being physically present in the real environment. Great development is expected in these devices to push them for mass consumer adoption as wearables.
What are some of the latest advances in augmented reality technology?
The usual associations with AR are dog 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, which used to only be found on expensive Playstation and Xbox devices, is now available on your phones on Instagram, Snapchat and worldwide on TikTok. The AR features on Instagram and Chat can give you fun face filters and trigger interesting world effects, target tracking effects, body tracking, location, orientation or geo-targeting effects. This means that the real world can be overlaid with many multimedia messages that can be triggered when needed. So a 2D poster can start talking to you, an outdoor hoard can open a portal that transports you to another world, or an innocent print ad can open a playful experience. Games that used to only be possible on Xbox and Playstation due to the body tracking capabilities can now be played on Instagram or Snapchat. You can issue discount codes that are triggered by a precise geographic location. You can see an Independence Day inspirational wish just outside the Red Fort. The specific pincode triggers the effect. All of these advances are explored in social apps, which have the advantage of wide distribution due to their large base.
How is augmented reality used in education to improve learning outcomes?
Augmented Reality can greatly enhance educational experiences. For example, a simple heart image in a science textbook can trigger a 3D image of the heart that the student can manipulate, rotate, zoom in and out and explore at will. One of the big tech players has already partnered with the government to create an augmented reality curriculum on the AICTE website – Swayam in Hindi. We will see AR pop up as an elective in schools and colleges. Many concepts in science and math are being transformed into AR effects to bring the benefits of interactive learning to smaller schools in remote locations that don’t have physical labs or subscriptions to expensive edtech platforms.
What are some of the most exciting virtual reality games and experiences available right now?
Many great VR experiences are available on advanced VR devices. Beat Saber is one of the most popular. In Beat Saber you have two lightsabers that you must use to cut through obstacles that come your way. All this happens on beats and rhythmic music and involves whole body movement. There are many first person shooter games available that will make your former PlayStation and Xbox experience more fun and immersive. You’ve got Hollywood-themed games that used to be available on Playstation now on VR – like Resident Evil and Ironman. Then there’s Tripp – a very immersive mediation app that’s pretty good at giving you an otherworldly experience and calming you down. There is a whole world of Youtube VR that has 360 degree videos of travel, roller coaster rides, concerts, etc. Some of these experiences will take you there – whether it’s the Himalayan peaks or the forests of the Amazon. Some apps simulate the theater experience where you can watch a movie on a big screen with your friend. You can even watch Netflix on a big screen in a VR device. Finally, shared spaces mix VR and social experiences where you can interact with your friends (via their avatars) in these immersive spaces. Metas Horizon Worlds is one such experience to 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 that the future of remote work will be immersive. Metas Horizons Worlds is one such attempt. You work in an immersive 3D environment where you collaborate with your colleagues through their avatars. You can mirror your physical computer in this workspace and use a whiteboard to doodle your ideas, brainstorm, and jam with your colleagues. However, as remote work loses flavor, this trend will take time. The recent experience must also be more seamless for mass consumer adoption.
What are the potential long-term health effects of using virtual reality headsets for an extended period of time?
Current research is limited to examining the long-term effects of virtual reality headsets on health. However, some VR users report motion sickness within VR experiences that feature a lot of movement. Some also experience eye strain from prolonged use of headsets. However, there is limited research on the long-term effects of VR headsets on health.
What do you see as how Metaverse can or may change the way we live, work and play?
We see consumer experiences transforming in two to three ways – first, content will evolve from its current video trend to immersive content. This will happen behind an emerging ecosystem of AR and later VR developers. Most big tech companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars training the next generation of developers to create immersive content. Apps to create immersive content, i.e. 3D experiences. AR effects are becoming increasingly DIY, aided by the generative AI trend. Finally, we will start panning wearables. When I say wearables, AR and VR experiences merge into a single device. AR glasses are becoming lighter, easier to use and more affordable. Case in point – Jio glasses announced in the recent past were set to retail at Rs 15,000. With leading hardware providers like Apple and price leaders like Jio investing in the battle with leading social content providers like Meta investing in experiences, we will see how the Metaverse impacts at the consumer level for everyday experiences. Phones are being replaced by lightweight wearable glasses that unleash a multitude of multimedia, AR and VR experiences. However, this will happen in 4-5 years.
How are big tech companies like Meta and Microsoft investing in the Metaverse and what are their goals with this emerging technology?
Investments from Big Tech flow into a variety of initiatives. Microsoft has already moved to acquire Activision, giving it a huge 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 the hardware – expect 2-3 more interactions from VR devices and AR glasses that may replace phones by 2027. Second, they continue to push the development of Spark AR – their platform to bring AR effects to phones. Third, they launched the Immersive Learning Academy to advance AR education and create millions of creative technologists who will drive the next generation of immersive content. Finally, they are pushing aggressive use cases in AR and VR to demonstrate these technologies to businesses.
How are artists and creators using the Metaverse to create new digital art forms and immersive experiences?
Creative technologists are already becoming early adopters of AR and VR. Around the world, the earliest adopters of AR were museums and art galleries. The Singapore government has partnered with several traditional artists and creative technologists to bring art to life through augmented reality. This initiative was called Art Imagine. Similar efforts have been made in leading museums in Europe. In our recent work, we helped a luxury carpet brand enter the Metaverse by leveraging their existing carpet designs and giving them a Webb 3.0 advantage. Each rug carries a painting of the same design that can be brought to life in augmented reality and triggered via your phone. The carpet buyer gets the carpet, the painting, the AR experience, and an NFT for it. Thanks to the Web 3.0 extension, the carpets are poised to earn a premium of 75 percent.