Virtual-reality

Photo Credit: Marcus Kazmierczak

Virtual reality (VR) — the technology that allows the user to feel as though he or she is in an immersive environment — is not just for games or pornography. Other categories including travel, healthcare and education can make use of VR to enhance the user experience.

One particular startup mixing travel with virtual reality is US-based company Ascape VR, which was grown in-house from the labs of Unlimited Capital.

The startup has created an eponymous app that allows users to see the world through their Android devices and virtual reality headsets.

Valeriy

Valeriy Kondruk, Co-founder, Ascape VR

Valeriy Kondruk, Partner, Unlimited Capital and Co-founder, Ascape VR, said that the company entered the Asian market from day one.

He explained that India is home to 7.39 per cent of all users on Ascape, second to the number of Ascape users in the US which stands at 35.47 per cent. Furthermore, the app interface and content translation will soon support the Chinese language.

Also Read: Visual search, augmented reality: The next frontier for brands

Kondruk said that the team has uploaded content from India, and will upload more from other parts of Asia, including Nepal and Japan, in the future.

Not only does Ascape allow people to watch virtual reality-enabled videos of marvellous places in the world, it also pays content producers for every download of their videos.

“I think that Asians are more eager to [try] this kind of experience and will be the earliest adopters of cinematic VR like we do in Ascape,” he added.

e27 speaks to Kondruk and his Co-founder Daniel Moroz to find out more about Ascape and the challenges faced by the company.

Here are the edited excerpts:

Can you tell me more about the company?

Kondruk: Ascape VR is a platform for high-quality VR travel content. We select only the best spherical videos, focussing on travel and tourism, from the constantly growing number of submissions we receive.

We launched only a couple of weeks ago, but we already have over 15 breathtaking 360° videos available for download from content producers all over the world! The Ascape app is compatible with Google Cardboard and any other mobile VR headset that accommodates Android smartphones.

When and how did you come up with the idea?

Moroz: I saw the potential of VR over two years ago when I experienced Oculus for the first time. It was no ordinary experience since the Oculus was bundled with a hand gesture recognition device called Leap Motion.

At that moment I realised that VR has a much broader application than just gaming.

Then I was introduced to the concept of mobile-powered VR headsets and it became apparent that 360° videos are much more consumer-ready than VR games, and will become a major driving force behind the adoption of mobile VR.

Also Read: HomeLane acquires home decor visualisation platform Doowup

Kondruk: VR provides a completely new level of immersion, making you feel like someone else. So, why travel just once a year if you can put your goggles on and escape (Ascape in our case) to somewhere else right now?

That shaped the mission of our company – we want to give people an ability to be able to travel all over the world from the comfort of their homes whenever they want.

How big is the company now?

Kondruk: Right now we are a team of four but we do a lot of work with freelance developers, designers and video engineers to cover the not-core tasks.

Has the company received external funding, and if so, how much and from whom?

Kondruk: We currently operate as an in-house project of Unlimited Capital and didn’t receive any external funding so far. Moroz became the first entrepreneur-in-residence here at UC. However, we are a completely independent company.

What are a few challenges faced by the company?

Moroz: I can think of a number of challenges, such as how to increase the quality of the videos, or how to decrease the streaming or downloading waiting time for our users. The point is, however, those are technical challenges which we can overcome.

The major challenge for us and many other VR startups, in my opinion, is making sure VR headsets are adopted by a mainstream audience as soon as possible. They have to become devices that are used regularly at home, alongside your TV, game console, or computer.

How does Ascape differentiate itself from competitors?

Kondruk: We can call Ascape a platform for spherical videos, but we are not trying to compete with YouTube 360.

We don’t want to publish every VR experience we receive – our focus is on publishing only high-quality VR travel content. We want to ask our users, “Where in the world do you want to teleport next?”

In the next couple of months, we plan on implementing new features that will allow for a more natural transition between virtual destinations.

What keeps you going when things are rough?

Kondruk: Our mission. We really believe that travelling around the world from the comfort of your own home is a revolutionary idea, especially for people who can not afford or are not able to travel for any number of reasons.

Imagine being able to experience the bustling heart of Manhattan from your living room, and then a moment later, basking in the solitude of a beach in Bali. With your smartphone, a VR headset and the Ascape app, now you can!

What are your plans for the next six months?

Kondruk: We will continue to grow as a platform, hosting phenomenal VR experiences from as many destinations in the world as possible. We will also be producing the next episodes of our ‘You Are Here’ series, with a few VR tours of major cities around the world (including Hong Kong and Bangkok) coming soon.

We plan to release an iOS version of the app in late October. Naturally, we’ll keep improving the user experience of our app, as well as bring Ascape to the major consumer VR headsets that are scheduled for release in 2016.