Ken Ehrhart, Founder & CEO “…through television and telephony, we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles.”
That was Nikola Tesla, foreshadowing the modern day smartphone, back in 1926, much to the amazement of the millennial man about how this prediction is realized today, a century down the line. It is increasingly apparent that human aspiration—in all its limitations in vision—is no longer bound by a lack of creativity, as technology accelerates at a pace never seen before. Developments are due in part to the value placed on data today and how it is used and applied subsequently. The evolution of technology means that humans’ horizons are being altered, or rather augmented. Virtual and Augmented Realities are helping push the boundaries of human perception, the same way the smartphone did, in line with what Tesla theorized so long ago. For Paracosma, an American AR/VR company with its development team based out of Nepal, AR and VR render a world of possibilities in design, engineering, art, and science, to name a few with a potential to allow the user to witness things too dangerous or rare in the real world.
An Early Future
Ken Ehrhart, the founder, and CEO at Paracosma, remembers developing an interest toward VR in 1987. In the mid-90s, his wife was a senior buyer and product developer for KB Toys, when they conducted the rollout for Virtual Boy. From 1996, Ehrhart’s business focus for the next five years was technology research, and in 2000, he became a venture capitalist in technology. He got inspired by his boss from 1996-2000, George Gilder who wrote a book in 1994 called “Life After Television” where he forecast the rise of what he called the “teleputer,” or today’s smartphone. While this and many such nods from science fiction from the late 60s, like the acclaimed “2001: A Space Odyssey” showcased the possibilities of technology just over the hill, eventually, the fantasy became a reality. In 1996, mobile phones surpassed PCs for the first time with a clear progression, thanks to the rise of bandwidth, wireless capability, processing power, graphics and memory capacities, pushing the era of smart and connected devices further. The most obvious use of this growing processing power, graphics capability, display, networking, etc. in mobile devices is AR and VR.
One of Paracosma’s earliest demos was a 360-degree VR video of marine wildlife that was viewed over a series of 200 demos. Ehrhart fondly recalls how he saw children, including his youngest, waiting in a line 12 kids long, to swim with wild dolphins in VR.
We see it as the progression of technology and destiny to reach AR and VR ubiquity, and it is just a question of timing at this point
From this relatively early validation, the company took shape to meet the future.
The Engine under the Hood
With a development team based out of Kathmandu, Nepal, customers in the U.S. and Japan, Paracosma presents its strength as being able to focus broadly and deeply across VR and AR, while constantly expanding both their breadth in talent and their R&D. “We offer a broad approach to these emerging AR experiences and VR worlds, with various ways to access them. We are not seeking to predefine how the technology is used at this point, so that people will find their own applications for it in real life, across a vast diversity of interests and entertainment,” adds Ehrhart. One of his key goals was to have a very low cost yet vast capability, so that Paracosma could have limitless potential to weigh and progress as the markets evolve. As a result, the company does not narrowly focus on a single platform or area, but focuses across a spectrum of different applications, to go very deep technically. They are consistently honing personnel capabilities across the field, ensuring that this evolution takes place as fast as possible. Ehrhart notes that these devices and capabilities will become more ubiquitous, and when that happens, Paracosma will be ready to take advantage of its capabilities. “We see it as the progression of technology and destiny to reach AR and VR ubiquity, and it is just a question of timing at this point,” adds Ehrhart.
“Two years ago, there was a ton of interest where clients said that they would like to explore this and yet they had no idea about the cost, complexity, and what the technology entailed, thinking of it as just something cool and in the hype,” recounts Ehrhart. Through experience and practice, however, Paracosma started delivering AR/VR as a product without their clients having to dissect into its finer details.
While traditional video only requires a camera, direction, and editing, Paracosma offers a similarly simple AR/VR product through their state-of-the-art development cycle. They do it all, right from 3D modeling, texturing, painting, rigging, and animation of the scene with lighting, shading, and rendering and so on. Each of these processes requires a specialist who is an artist, a full range that Paracosma encompasses through their very own multi-talented team, who specialize in each of these areas. More than half of the company comprises artists and designers, rather than just technologists, engineers and developers, all of whom, like ink on canvas, go into painfully intricate detail in every part of the project, to give clients that perfect big picture, in the highest of resolutions possible.
Placing Milestones along the Way
Paracosma’s first in-house VR game called “Unnamed VR” is an open-ended sandbox game. The game simply allows the user to enter a VR world, play, and interact with its environment. Effectively set in a large mansion with about 24 rooms, the experience offers a fully interactive and immersive ecosystem for players to explore in a variety of different ways. There are traditional rooms, like a child’s bedroom where one can pick up objects such as stuffed animals, books, and stationary or open and close cabinets or doors. Just about any interactions that one would do in real life may be performed, including picking up vases and throwing them and having them break with shattering realism, in an environment which users can explore across different rooms.
Having been demonstrated at E3 to overwhelmingly rave reviews, the game offers what VR is at its essence, an environment that players would love to explore and do things in and have fun—nothing necessarily with a fixed goal or a purpose in and of itself. Apart from the game, Paracosma has worked extensively with its team based in Nepal to create VR walkthroughs of one of Hinduism’s most revered pilgrimages, the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. They have just finished a video-on-demand platform for 360-degree photos and videos. Recently, Paracosma launched the 360 web portal for Madison mountaineering—a prominent mountaineering team that captured the filming for Sports Illustrated and Time of the ascent of Mount Everest, and the only 360-degree video from the top of K2. Having climbed every major mountain on the planet with 360-degree videos of their expeditions, they had no means to display or share the footage. Paracosma was able to use their platform to set up 360.madisonmountaineering.com to provide seamless access to their 360-degree video content—from desktop or VR.
"We offer a broad approach to these emerging AR experiences and VR worlds, with various ways to access them"
The Present Future
In addition to in-house development—such as with their VR game—Paracosma’s client projects are currently focused extensively on AR, with projects for the general public and several enterprise and industrial AR customers. The company has a large global manufacturing customer using their AR for machine maintenance, where it guides the engineer, in cleaning, inspection, and maintenance of the equipment. They also offer solutions in assembly line production to guide the user in very complex steps and procedures before hitting critical failure points using machine vision to make sure they get it right. Paracosma also utilizes their AR and VR applications for executive training and coaching, to drive end-user applications based on client demands. The ultimate goal, however, is photorealism—an experience so realistic that it is indistinguishable from reality itself, and perhaps one day, to better the real world and improve upon it for the benefit of mankind as a whole.