Unite India 2019 : AR/VR use in edtech and enterprise scenarios were dominant themes at this dev con

Unity wants to capitalise on the non-gaming sector in India as that is where most of the users and most of the traction is.

Unity Technologies India held the third edition of its annual developer conference, Unite India 2019, in Kochi, Kerala on 14-15 November. The two-day event saw a raft of talks, panel discussions, demos and workshops on everything related to the Unity developer platform and technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality.

The event, held in partnership with the government of Kerala and Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), was attended by over 1,100 delegates. Unity also announced three new products at the conference, which included the HMI (human machine interface) Toolkit, Render Streaming, and Immersive Collaboration Toolkit. According to Unity, these toolkits will provide users with ready-to-use building blocks for industrial use cases and allow its users to extend and modify the toolkits as per their need. 

Arvind Neelakantan, Head of Technology and Evangelism, Indian Subcontinent at Unity Technologies also announced that Unit040 was added to its Verified Solutions Program. Unit040 is a Netherlands-based company which publishes Prespective, a solution for developing digital twins of complex systems ranging from machines to entire production facilities. 

Unite India 2019 conference demo zone. Image: tech2

Unite India 2019 conference demo zone. Image: tech2

Gaming wasn’t the dominant theme

Copenhagen-based Unity Technologies is known for its game engine, which is a platform for building video games. It is a name associated with many popular titles including Pokémon Go, PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty and much more. So off the bat, one would assume that Unite India 2019 would be a game developer conference. But things were far from that. 

While the first Unite India conference in 2017 did have a major focus on gaming, the areas of interest have been evolving since then. In 2018, the Unite India conference had a focus on automotive technologies. 

In 2019, the focus was clearly on education and enterprise and how technologies such as AR, VR, MR built using tools from Unity, can be implemented in these sectors. Don’t get me wrong, gaming was still part of the conference, in the form of indie game developers who were present in the demo zone. But the majority of the discussion was around using AR/VR for everything from training car shop floor workers, rehabilitating those with neurological disorders to even preserving tribal art and artefacts through VR. There were more than enough startups who had their own version of mixed reality headsets with demos for educational and industrial use case. 

Gaming as an industry is still in a nascent stage in India as compared to places like the US, Europe and South-East Asia. Keeping that at the back of the mind, the lack of a huge gaming focus in the event seemed logical. The same tools that are used in game development have translated well into use in the enterprise sector. Unity Technologies has its stamp on over 50 percent of all the games that are made globally. It is as popular among mobile game developers as it is among PC and Console game devs. This, therefore, gives the Unity platform a great advantage when translating things to other sectors.  

Using a VR headset to train auto shopfloor workers being demoed at Unite India 2019. Image: tech2

Using a VR headset to train auto shopfloor workers being demoed at Unite India 2019. Image: tech2

Enterprise market trumps gaming segment in India

I asked Unity Technologies’ India field engineer Sharatchandra Aithal, if the focus on non-gaming sector at this year’s Unite India conference was by design. Aithal responded that this wasn’t the case, but the conference was a reflection of where the industry is headed.

“In India, people concentrate on mobile gaming right now. Console gaming is a minor portion and there are very few companies who make games for that platform. It's the same with PC gamers. But it is a small populace compared to the country. Since 2015-16, AR, VR and MR have come into play. That’s when we actually switched gears. We are not calling ourselves just a gaming platform, but a real time 3D engine. So this lets you utilise the power of real time 3D to build your applications,” said Aithal. 

Neelkanthan agreed, stating that over 70 percent of people in India use Unity for enterprise and industrial use cases. 

According to Aithal, companies such as Infosys, Tech Mahindra, etc. have clients with specific needs which can be solved using real time 3D technology. Building things from scratch would be quite time consuming for these large IT firms, that’s where Unity’s platforms come in which provide the needed extendability. 

Unity India is quite a small team comprising 15 members across the country. While the research and development happens in Copenhagen, Brighton and San Francisco, the team from India is responsible for the patches for the Unity editor. 

EdTech was quite prominent a player

Byjus being a major partner aside, the Unite India conference had a dedicated Education track which saw developers working in educational startups talking about how the educational sector could improve if AR/VR/MR technologies were baked into educational products. 

Lot of EdTech startups were present at the Unite India 2019 conference. Image: tech2

Lot of EdTech startups were present at the Unite India 2019 conference. Image: tech2

For instance, Rohith Patil, CEO of Vidwanth, explained how education can be made more accessible to common man using VR, AR and MR technologies. Abhi Mitra, along with his team from Centurion University in partnership with Odisha State Tribal Museum, showed how his team was using VR space to document tribal art and artefacts from Odisha’s tribal communities. Swapnil Agarkar, CEO of EDU360 Knowledge Solutions showed off a demo of shared learning in augmented reality which employs the Unity engine and physics.

While the implementation by these educational apps was quite clunky in most cases, the potential of the tech as a learning was certainly palpable. Imagine visualising a chemical reaction rather than mugging it up through text, or seeing how a heart works rather than going through pages of diagrams.  

Unity India also offers certification programs for those interested in learning to develop on the platform, which are recognised globally. 

“Since Unity started off as a game engine, so most of our certifications are still game related. But it’s up to the certified professional how they take that knowledge and pull it into other industries. There are two major certifications: a Unity certified programmer and a Unity certified artist or designer. These are two different tracks that we support and then you have the beginner, intermediate and advanced tiers to each of these three certifications,” said Aithal. 

Tesseract had its Mixed Reality headset on display at Unite India 2019. Image: tech2

Tesseract had its Mixed Reality headset on display at Unite India 2019. Image: tech2

Symbiotic partnership with Kerala Startup Summit

Kerala Startup Summit (KSUM) project director of operations, Tom Thomas, spoke at the Unite India 2019 keynote on the need to make Kerala the AR/VR/MR hub of India. KSUM had tied up with Unity Technologies India to create a Centre of Excellence in Kerala earlier this year. The focus will be on extended reality (XR) and the plan is to offer a six-month-long accelerator programme to focus on enterprise and gaming industries. Some startups who have enrolled in this program already got have access to Unity’s commercial licences, mentorship, training and networking. 

Sectors that Unity’s platforms are used in include automotive, manufacturing, transportation, architecture, engineering, construction, film and animation, defence forces, healthcare, retail and of course, games.

Speaking about the partnership with KSUM, Neelakantan said, “I guess we both needed each other. KSUM wanted to encourage entrepreneurs, which then translates to being self-employed. Unity and real-time 3D being a most in-demand skill set that is required to be eligible for many industries offered a kind of symbiotic partnership.”

HoloSuit use case in animation being demoed at Unite India 2019. Image: tech2

HoloSuit use case in animation being demoed at Unite India 2019. Image: tech2

A walk around the demo zone threw up some interesting project as well such as BeAble Health, which is using the Unity platform to develop games to help in the rehabilitation of those suffering from neurological disorders, a HoloSuit which could be used as equally in film and animation as for training shop floor employees, using an HTC Vive headset to train employees in a Hyundai car factory, and much more. 

After two days of the Unite India 2019 conference, one thing became clear — Unity wants to capitalise on the non-gaming sector in India as that is where most of the users and most of the traction is. Game development in India has certainly seen an uptick, but it’s nowhere in comparison to international gaming cultures. With a relationship with KSUM, Unity is hoping to create a thriving XR ecosystem in Kerala in particular and in India, in general.

I'm very curious indeed to see which new industry will adopt Unity by next year's conference.

The correspondent was invited by Unity Technologies to attend the conference in Kochi. All travel expenses were covered by Unity

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