IIT Madras's virtual reality advancement centre moots extended reality corridor in the country

The institute plans to establish advanced VR/AR-based training centres for private players and public sector undertakings like SAIL.
For representational purposes.
For representational purposes.

CHENNAI: Amid the scepticism around the metaverse taking off, immersive technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) are widely adopted for consumer and enterprise applications.  

Bets of big technological players like Google forming a partnership with Qualcomm and Samsung for joint development of mixed reality platform and Apple rushing out Vision Pro shows the possibilities of these technologies.  

The Xperential Technology Innovation Center (XTIC) located at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras campus is trying to put India on the immersive tech map and make sure we don't miss the bus. It has been developing open-source virtual, augmented reality hardware like headsets, haptic tools or touch sensing technology, emote biosensors and software, standardisation and testing protocols in the extended reality (XR) technology to be future-ready.

It focuses on interdisciplinary research combining biomechanics, mechatronics, robotics, neurophysiology, computer graphics etc., to support the XR ecosystem in the country. XR as the name suggests extension of reality into the virtual world.

Dr M Manivannan of the Department of Applied Mechanics who heads XITC is proposing to develop a nationwide XR corridor to boost the industry. It's important we do fundamental research and pioneering research in XR technologies and not just build software based on tech corporation's work, he told TNIE. The institute has created experiential centres for these technologies and free training courses which include perceptual engineering and algebra. The focus is on human perception, he said.
The professor argues that India should have indigenous capabilities and innovation in the XR space similar to that of developing Bharath OS, Shakthi Processor.

"Major companies are not releasing hardware in India, so the cost of these devices is higher, which affects affordability and accessibility. The aim is to encourage startups to work in these areas to bring world-class yet affordable products," he said.

The price of Meta Quest Pro is sold at 1000 USD and Apple Vision Pro is sold at 3,500 USD which is unaffordable to most Indian customers.

In the short-term XTIC aims to provide training to college students, entrepreneurs and industry stakeholders in both hardware and software tools. It plans to set up XITC centres in academic institutions across the country starting in Tamil Nadu.

The institute plans to establish advanced VR/AR-based training centres for private players and public sector undertakings like SAIL.

An agreement has been signed to develop a training module for the Indian manned spaceflight program, with Army Design Bureau for defence applications and with 23 national museums for developing VR tours of these sites.

Rabindra Sah, Chief Engineer at Tata Technologies said the adoption of digital product development is picking up as these technologies and service providers are easily available.

"Digital prototyping, creating digital twins in the physical environment and stimulating the entire process is there for at least a decade. But, with these emerging technologies, more immersive technological layers improve product development, testing, and validation. For example, proof of concept is made simple with VR technology."  

It is necessary to research how gamification can be applied to engineering and manufacturing to create immersive product development, Sah added.

XITC is working with NITI Aayog for recommending policies for the development of the technology which include incentives for supporting domestic manufacturing, R&D, putting guardrails in place to address the potential threats in the virtual space and so on.    

The VR-based applications are used in product design, industrial training, gaming and entertainment, among other areas. Its scope is expected to widen to education and others in the forthcoming years as these mass-produced headsets are sold in the market.

XITC has identified ed-tech, med-tech, space-tech, and defence-tech as key areas of growth.

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