Vicara Tech: Reinvigorating Gesture Recognition Technology
If you have ever seen movies like “The Matrix” and “Iron Man,” then you must have fantasized what it would be like to control the TV, computer and other devices in your home by making just tiny movements with your hands in thin air! These sci-fi dreams are quickly becoming a reality as gesture recognition technology has been around for some time now. Gesture Recognition is a step closer to becoming a highly personalized technology. No wonder, clients can start visualizing a future where consumers can interact with their brand with a simple gesture, voice and facial activity. It is a known fact that gesture recognition technology has been a staple in Science fiction films since a long time. We have also witnessed quite a few of their incarnations in real life with the likes of Nintendo Wii, Microsoft’s Kinect and Leap Motion. However, we are yet to see Gesture recognition technology being applied seriously in our daily lives for applications other than gaming and maybe robotics. To fulfil this gap, a Bangalore -Based Start-up – Vicara has created a controller that’s equipped to handle the needs of (Not just VR – Basically any digital environment – i.e PC Laptops and VR/AR and soon, other machines as well.). Holding onto the Indian roots, the company’s name was derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘Vichar’.
The company has created a nifty little device called The KAI, means ‘HAND’ in Tamil. This band based expedient can be held in your hand to control just about everything on a PC or laptop screen using hand gestures. The data is relayed via a Bluetooth module to a proprietary desktop app. It’s the world’s first gesture-based workflow automation device. It enables professionals to seamlessly interact with their digital environment. The KAI harnesses natural body language and drastically enhances productivity by creating a truly revolutionary gesture-based computer interaction experience.
Founded by Abhishek Satish and Adarsh Warrier, the idea for KAI had initially started out as a hack project at an Intel Hackathon in Pune in August 2015 (3rd Year of Engineering). Both Abhishek and Adarsh, are huge fans of futuristic technology and superhero gadgets. It had initially started out as a thought that, “Wouldn’t it be cool, if it was possible to control all kinds of technology like lights, robots, computers, etc; with a glove on your hand?!” Talking about the inception, Adarsh Warrier says, “Over 24 hours, we had created a basic prototype on a KITCHEN GLOVE that could control a light and a presentation on a PC. When the results were declared, the winner of the event had created a prototype that could just control lights. We later realized we were ineligible for the prize because we didn’t have PAN Cards. It was a demotivating moment but inspiring in the essence that the idea had recognized potential.”
Both of the founders were in their 3rd year of engineering at VIT university and the idea had remained dormant for about 6 months until they got an opportunity to pitch at VIT’s first ever business plan competition called StartupVIT. At that moment they realized this was a great stage to test the business potential of this project as well and so they created a business plan to pitch the idea of KAI. “We were adjudged the runners up in that competition and we won prize money of Rs. 30,000. At that time, Abhishek and I had a brainwave to put that money into developing the product and establishing a company instead. We realized that this product had the potential to transform into the future standard of digital interaction! Both of us mutually agreed that we will keep developing the product until the money runs out.
The company’s journey began by securing 2nd rank in the Start-up VIT competition where they won Rs. 30,000. With this amount, the duo bought a 3D printer which helped them reduce size, iterate the product while crowd fund Rs. 50,000 was used for further development. The additional money helped them iterate further to apply for the 1 Lakh Start-up Seed grant from VIT University. This helped them develop the product and make it technologically superior. This advanced prototype helped them clinch the winning title at the National Demo Day in 2016, fetching them prize money of 5 Lacs. Adarsh states, “All the above traction helped us apply and get the Rs. 10 Lakh Nidhi Prayas Grant from IIT-Bombay. We leveraged all the previous funds to create an MVP, which helped us obtain our seed round of funding. Fortunately, we managed to move on and won various grants and prizes where we raised over 20.3 lacs equity-free and our seed round. Even to this day, we are proud to say that we are engineering graduates who dropped out of placements in their 4th year of Engineering to build a start-up that does not involve any personal investment. Our journey helped us to keep pushing the boundaries of what was possible without risking our personal wealth and livelihood.”
Vicara is a start-up whose mission is to develop affordable human augmentation technologies. Their unique motto is to employ the technology of tomorrow to solve the limitations of humanity today. The firm is sincerely focused on building a team that is motivated by the resolution to achieve their motto.
The Gesture Recognition market has been segmented by different prototypes involving face, eye, voice, body and finger motion tracking. Gesture recognition has the potential to literally augment every kind of workflow in our life as gestures are a natural extension of our body language. The ability to interact with the machines using an interface that is natural has the potential to completely revolutionize the future. With the organization’s first product, the KAI, they aim to provide the consumer with, “A revolutionary interface for your machines that tap into the most basic form of communication: gestures.” The uniqueness of the solution is dual folded. On the hardware side, the unique non-obtrusive finger tracking algorithm enables the device to accurately measure the position of the fingers as well as the hand without the use of intensive image processing. On the software side, the KAI provides complete customizability from within its application.
Starting a business is not a part time Saturday job. 99 percent of people thinking to start a business don’t continue with it due of the cost realisation and the lack of funding. A few small businesses can make it on self funding alone. Initially, the main challenge the founders faced was lack of credibility and funds to execute the idea. Fortunately, at nascent stage their university TBI (Technology Business Incubator) was willing to support them and they were able to make the transition from project to company. With the help of the TBI, they could make the right connections which were willing to collaborate with them to maturate a better market-fit product. However, the major hurdle for such hardware companies is the lack of a hardware support ecosystem and community to support the native development of these products. Today, two of the major challenges the company faces is the sourcing of components and hiring of right talent.
“The components we require are slightly specialized in their use and are arduous to obtain locally. Low volume manufacturing for test runs of their product remain a nightmare as manufacturers willing to do the same are scarce. Talent acquisition is also a challenge as hardware start-ups requires a myriad of skills working in tandem like PCB design, 3D design, testing, firmware coding, software creation, front end and backend integration. Striking the right balance between compensation and skill is an intricate task”, adds Adarsh.
To generate revenue and grow your start-up to acquire customers is clearly the main priority. Adarsh asserts, “Our approach was simple – we knew we had something revolutionary and ground breaking. So the best way for us to attract clients was to simply make them aware that we existed. That is exactly what we did – We ensured we have a strong digital presence across all social platforms and maintained a strong engagement with our digital community. Slowly, but surely, our potential clients came looking for us, even before we were ready for launch. All it required were videos and infographics of our offering that clearly highlighted the value proposition of the product in an engaging format.”
Vicara recently launched the KAI on Indiegogo for crowd funding. It is currently live at getkai.co/preorder and is sold for USD 249; with shipping cross the globe.
The crowd funding campaign serves two major purposes, firstly, early traction that will aid in the setting up of their manufacturing and logistics and ,secondly, customer validation and quick verification of proposed product positioning.
Highly celebrated for their services, Vicara operates in the domains of electronic hardware and deep technology. Adarsh explains, “We envision to pioneer innovation to develop and advance hardware in India that rivals the established ecosystems of the USA and China. Our mission necessitates employment of people from the fields of core engineering. As the world moves towards automation, we aspire to develop technologies that augment and enhance the capabilities of humans. This allows us to alleviate unemployment and simultaneously devise channels of wealth creation for the employee as well as the employer.”
Since the turn of the decade, there has been a gradual change in the outlook of consumers towards adopting future forward technologies in India. With the current encouragement of the government towards “Make in India”, the situation is ripe to foster innovative technologies in the hardware domain. The rise of new varieties in digital interaction ranging from AR/VR glasses to smart interfaces, arises need to cater to the digital age where consumers give the company the potential of massive scalability. As per Markets&Markets the combined value of Robotics, Augmentation and AR/VR market is projected to be a 161 billion dollar industry, which is more than the current value of the Indian IT Industry. Vicara aspires to ride this new wave of innovation with their augmentation technologies. The immediate plan after the launch of the KAI on a crowd-funding platform was to optimize its efficiency for various niche markets like CAD, gaming and music. There are plans to eventually release a central hub that can automate your home and will be controlled by the KAI, making the KAI your one stop solution for all kinds of interaction with electronic devices. “As we identify ourselves as a human augmentation company, we endeavour to research and develop in products which augment the capability of humans, like AR Visors, bio-prosthetics, enhanced intelligent wearables and in the long-term, exoskeletons,” claims Adarsh.
Entrepreneurs are bombarded with issues competing for their attention during the early days of a start-up venture, and prioritizing strategically can be a challenge. Having a team of young members never brings pre-conceived notions or limiting paradigms to the table. Adarsh shares, “Since we are often unfamiliar with the accepted traditions, we often come with a mindset of revolutionizing outdated or obsolete standards and procedures. Our Investors, Mr. Mahesh Bhalla and Mr. Michael Marks, with their combined business experience of more than 50 years ensure that we aren’t reinventing the wheel. Mr Bhalla comes to the game with extensive experience in Distribution and Retail, while Mr. Marks (Who resides in China) comes with immense experience in Manufacturing and Finance. Together, they give us thorough access to knowledge and resources that help navigate the greatest pitfalls of the Hardware Industry.”
In a start-up, everything revolves around people. You’re going to be married to your team for the lifetime of the company. At Vicara, they make sure to employee a specific breed of people. The KAI team is currently 7 members strong with an additional intern team of 10. The average age in our team is roughly 20 years. How founders describe their employees is relentless learners fuelled by curiosity with a droplet of interest in a specialized domain. The company’s experience has helped them understand an important fact: A team of under qualified but motivated individuals that works well together yield better results than of highly qualified but complacent individuals who are not able to get along together. Adarsh further adds, “We try to take advantage of this fact. Skill is trainable, but motivation isn’t. We look for motivated individuals who try not to type cast themselves into a domain. A start-up does not have the liberty to entertain domain specialists on board; we rely on agile and flexible team members who can don hats of multiple responsibilities if the need arises.”
India has the third highest number of start up incubators and accelerators in the world, after China and the US. The number of start-ups and incubators grew by 40 percent in 2016-17. Few achievements by the company are: Vicara was recently recognized among the top 30 most promising tech start-ups at the YourstoryTechsparks 2017 conference. Vicara was selected by the highly selective AIR maker accelerator in Singapore to take part in its mentorship program. They were the only Indian start-up that was selected in the batch that had only 4 start-ups in its most recent cohort.