23 Aug 2016 13:16 IST

Building on a new construct

When architectural design met gaming and virtual reality, it led to a heady ride for Gautam and Tithi Tewari

Walk into SmartVizX’s buzzing office in Noida and you are handed an HTC Vive headset and a wand-like object. Put it on and you are teleported into the reception of a plush office in this case that of BMR Advisors. Wave the magic wand or tracker as the device is called and it reflects a red or green beam. The minute you spot a green beam, press a button on the tracker and it teleports you into a different room. Sofas and bookshelves materialise out of thin air.

Welcome to viewing architectural design using virtual reality. You are teleported inside the space and can even look under tables and peep into lofts. Viewing the design this way, BMR Advisors caught on that some storage space had been missed and the architectural firm could rectify it.

“The way spaces were shown to a client earlier was static. Design visualisation had to change,” says Gautam Tewari, CEO and founder, SmartVizX, who set up the firm to make architectural design more interactive, engaging and immersive.

Tewari and his wife Tithi are unlikely techpreneurs! Architects with over 15 years of experience, and with a well paying job as partners at Space Matrix, one of Asia’s lagest design firms, they took the plunge when Gautam was 41 – pretty old in an ecosystem dominated by 20-somethings. It was Gautam’s fascination with technology that led them into it.

Eureka moments

A burning desire to change design visualisation led the Tewaris to meet up with coders and animators. Somebody pointed them to Chandan Singh, a game developer, and things started happening. “Chandan took our AutoCAD drawings put a 3D mesh around them and fed them into a gaming engine. Suddenly it had interactivity,” says Tewari. “That was the first Eureka moment for us,” he says. Tithi, who was following global developments in Virtual Reality, got interested in how it was exploding. Facebook had bought Oculus Rift, Google was developing its VR kits, and both on hardware as well as content front action was happening.

“There was the hardware side in which all the big boys were playing, then the content capture side – 360 degree videos and stuff - and finally the computer graphics part of it. We figured that was the big thing and wanted to be in it.”

The husband-wife duo wrote to hardware firms and got a few development kits. The next few months they spent creating proof of concepts (POCs) using VR tools. And it clicked. “That was the second Eureka moment for us. Here was just the immersive content we were looking for,” says Gautam. In February 2015, they formed SmartVizX – with Chandan Singh the first to join in as the head of VR.

They immersed themselves in creating VR work for the architectural, engineering and construction industries since this was familiar ground for them. In a few months they had created four POCs. When they showed it around there was excitement and immediate orders. “That was the third Eureka moment for us. We realised that what we were offering to companies was a VR equivalent of Software as Services with monetisation possibility,” he says. They began doing turnkey virtual reality projects with ticket sizes of Rs. 15-20 lakh. The first project was for Quikr Homes.

Scaling up

With the technology moving fast, they knew they had to scale up to get a headstart. So, they attended a NASSCOM 10,000 start-up event to seek out investors. Seed-funding happened without much ado with $500,000 raised from IAN, Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs India, which was used to open a studio in Bengaluru and hire senior talent. A heady moment was getting Samsung Gear VR’s Shailesh Kumar to join. After Shailesh, more people from Samsung joined. “It gave us confidence to play an international game,” says Gautam.

With the technology and talent in place, now the start-up is chasing big bucks. An aggressive target of $2.5 million as order book for the year has been set. “We have got our first order from the US now. That’s validation for our work,” he says. There are plans to diversify into other niches. “E-learning or rather V-learning (virtual learning) may be our first diversification,” says Gautam. Social gaming and VR could be next.

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