Quli Qutub Shah Tombs app from Imaginate
The new 'reality' of Culture marketing and conservation

October  24 2017: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality   have both been around for a couple of years  and have found applications in vertical markets like medicine, tourism and e-commerce.  But  they are also  making a dramatic difference in an unlikely sector -- culture and history. This is on two fronts:
ONE: Many ancient monuments  have been partially destroyed or in a state of disrepair.  Records survive that tell us how they looked -- in their heyday. It is possible to recreate these monuments digitally to the state of their former glory.
TWO: Many  destinations  that form part of the cultural heritage of a nation are vast or present logistical challenges to some visitors.  Technologies like AR & VR, 3-D and 360 degree camera are being successfully harnessed to  create stunning  walk-through imagery that allows student and tourist to explore such treasures from the comfort of their home. Many Indian states and the centre as well as global organisations like UNESCO are actively harnessing these  technologies to  preserv and celebrate  the glorious heritage of nations for  future generations in a manner that brick and mortar cannot.
 Virtual Reality -- the computer simulation of 3-D imagery  which immerses users and let them control it -- and Augmented Reality -- enhancing the physical world with simulated  sound, video and graphics  -- are the two dominant technologies in this arena today.
VR has hitherto required the use of special headsets, which usually have a fixture to attach a mobile phone in which the VR content resides.  This has proved something of a cost barrier.
AR was easier but had its own challenges.  Till recently, if you had to create an AR application for a phone, you needed  additional  sensors on the handset to track motion,  estimate  distances and establish the user's position. To do this the phone needed  a 3-camera system, and an infrared laser guide  -- like what you use on the TV remote.  Asus recently came out with such  a phone -- the Zenfone AR -- but  the device  was rather costly. But in recent weeks both Apple and Google have come out with developer kits called respectively ARKit and ARCore that will enable developers top create AR applications for phones without additional  hardware requirements. The possibilities are endless, for users and for thousands of Indian developers for whom a whole new opportunity presents itself.
Innovative Indian developers have already harnessed AR to  recreate very realistic walk through videos of historically and culturally important sites:

  • Imaginate, a VR company incubated at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad   has created HeritageAR, an initiative adopted by the Aga Khan Foundation and  available as an app at the Google Play Store  where one can  virtually tour the Quli Qutb Shahi  Tombs on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
  • Another Hyderabad company  Geosys Enterprises has done likewise for the famous ruins of Hampi  and created a site called Hampi360.com.
  • Bangalore-headquartered D-Ammo Imagineering  is blurring the lines between real and virtual  for monuments like Taj Mahal.
  • An augmented reality platform called FlippAR  has launched a heritage trail along Bangalore's MG Road, with pictures, timelines, videos and audio going back in history to an era when the road was known as South Parade.  The mobile app  includes landmarks like Mayo Hall, St Marks Cathedral, East Parade Church and Oriental Building.