Improving the Real World with Pioneering AR/VR Solutions
For the featured Cover Story Proﬁle of our exclusive AR/VR Edition, we had the great pleasure of sitting F down for an interview with Ken Ehrhart. A respected leader in the AR/VR sector, Mr. Ehrhart is the Founder and CEO of Paracosma, recognized by Business Brainiac in this edition as one of “The 10 Outstanding Tech Giants in AR/VR Space, 2020”.
In this interview, Mr. Ehrhart provides insights on the origin of Paracosma, the history and future of AR/VR, and his diverse business background for which he was recognized by Business Brainiac in the January edition as one of “The 10 Most Trailblazing Business Leaders to Watch in 2020”.
Where does Paracosma Fit in the History of Technology?
The world of technology goes through waves of innovation. With hardware, this takes the form of decreasing form factors and increasing capability. Computing went from Mainframes and microcomputers to PCs and laptops then on to smartphones. Similarly, software advanced from basic text-based interfaces to vibrant HTML-based web pages. Recorded data transitioned from voice audio to high-resolution video. The technology industry is now entering a massive transition from 2D to 3D computing. Paracosma was founded to focus on these emerging 3D technologies, including Augmented and Virtual Reality, 360-degree media, and 3D content creation.
How Long Has Paracosma Been Creating VR?
Paracosma was founded four years ago in the first half of 2016, at the same time the first consumer VR systems, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, launched. So, Paracosma has grown up with VR.
What is Distinctive about Your Brand?
Paracosma is future-focused on 3D. We don’t have any legacy 2D business lines. Our efforts are to make accessible AR, VR and 3D capabilities that have until now been too difficult and too expensive to adopt. We would rather work with our clients to enable their vision with next-generation technology than shrink their vision to fit within the limitations of prior technology.
What Are the Core Capabilities of Your Organization? Where Do You Shine?
Paracosma is focused on delivering the greatest value possible to our clients. That means simultaneously offering the highest quality at the lowest cost. We are able to do this in great part because of our global footprint that spans from the US for high innovation, and Japan for a focus on quality and precision, to Nepal with low-cost and passionately engaged engineering and artistry. With low-cost labor and overhead, we are able to hire and train a larger more diversely skilled team than we could in the US alone. That enables us to both offer a breadth of technologies and platforms and depth in terms of R&D in new areas.
What Types of Companies Do You Serve, and in What Industries or Markets? Who Is Your Ideal Client?
Paracosma’s enterprise clients range from the largest global ‘Fortune 50’, 100+-year-old, global manufacturing companies down to newly born-digital SAAS (software as a service) start-up companies. The ideal client is one with a long-term vision that we can help them realize through collaboration from early proof of concept on to a minimum viable product and then full deployment.
What Are the Solutions/Services/Products That Make Your Company Unique in the Market? What Is Your Company's USP?
Paracosma offers AR and VR application development and 3D content creation including both photo-realistic modeling and 360 media production. Our Unique Selling Proposition is that our diverse service offerings and deep skill sets enable us to be a one-stop-shop for innovative AR, VR, and 3D solutions.
The scope of our capabilities is reflected in the diversity of Paracosma’s applications, which include:
● VR training for Oil & Gas handling to prevent spills and fires;
● VR surgery simulation to improve outcomes and save lives;
● AR machine maintenance to increase efficiency and reduce downtime;
● Video holograms for executive management training to pass along company culture and best practices;
● VR and AR games for brain fitness to maintain health and wellness;
● Digital twins of facilities to visualize IoT data;
● 3D modeling to replace studio photography saving costs;
● AR imaging for testing features in product development;
● Teleconferencing displaying live 3D point-cloud video avatars in virtual environments;
● Consumer-facing AR & VR for marketing and entertainment; and many more.
How Does Virtual and Augmented Reality Work in the Modern World? Can You Explain the Core Components That Make It Work?
With the ongoing improvements in graphics technology—displays, processing, image capture, special effects, digital art, etc.—we have reached a point that we can create digital/computer-generated art that becomes indistinguishable from photos and video captured of the real world. As a result, we can begin to blend real-world imagery and computer-generated imagery in a way that you cannot tell apart. When we look at these hybrid creations, they fall on a spectrum from mostly real with some digital additions or augmentations to mostly or wholly digital or virtual images. That is the spectrum from Augmented to Virtual Reality. AR glasses let you see computer enhancements overlaid on the real world and VR headsets display computer-generated worlds or 360-spherical images that can look or feel to the viewer like a real experience.
What Is the Future of Virtual and Augmented Reality?
As technology continues to improve, the difficulty and cost and disruption of accessing AR and VR content will decrease. Eventually, AR and VR will be as accessible as reading or sunglasses or ultimately contact lenses. As we go beyond manipulating vision to also better use sound, touch, and feel, even smell and taste, then the full range of human experience will increasingly be replicable through artificial means. We already see demos of what is possible. But, the technologies still need to improve. So, it is just a question of time and the speed of innovation.
What Could Impede the Growth of Virtual and Augmented Reality?
VR and AR are new technologies that entered the consumer markets when they were only beginning to be accessible to early adopters and well out of reach of mainstream consumers. But, unfortunately, instead of following the quick technology upgrade path of Moore’s law (doubling in performance or halving in cost every two years), they seemed to follow the more leisurely upgrade cycle seen in consumer electronics and video game consoles.
As a result, the Sony PlayStation VR still remains virtually unchanged since its launch three and a half years ago. The HTC Vive only saw small incremental changes from the Vive to Vive Pro to Vive Eye-Tracking that all added price without significantly improving the user experience. Meanwhile, the changes between Oculus Rift and Rift S were also minimal in terms of end-user device cost, performance and size/comfort.
It has only been with the introduction of new classes of products, such as the Oculus Quest stand-alone headset, that we have seen technology leaps. If the Quest follows the upgrade cycle of past headsets and remains static in value for several years, instead of improving with annual improvements, then VR will again hit a plateau.
Fortunately, at CES 2020 we saw Panasonic announce VR “glasses” that offered a dramatic leap in terms of form factor, size, and weight, to shrink the face-brick VR headsets down to something more like opera glasses or steam-punk goggles.
Tell Us About Your Work Outside Paracosma.
In addition to being the Founder and CEO of Paracosma, I am a General Partner in the venture capital firm, SunBridge Partners, which specializes in bringing enterprise SAAS companies from the US to Japan. I am also a Co-founder and Director of TalentA, a Tokyo-based HR and talent management company.
How Has Your Work Experience Prepared You for Leading Paracosma?
As someone studying technology treads for some 24 years, with 20 years’ experience building companies as a venture capitalist, and with more than 10 years’ experience in international market entry for tech companies; I am focused on building Paracosma into a sustainable global company, with a long-term focus on the future.
What Is Your Greatest Professional Achievement?
Having the opportunity at SunBridge Partners to co-found successful, high-growth, market-leading companies like Concur Japan and Marketo Japan gives me confidence that Paracosma can achieve similar success.
What Challenges Have You Faced That Have Influenced Your Perspective?
The biggest challenge for many of the start-up companies in our VC portfolio has been timing risk: a great idea that was unfortunately ahead of its time or market. This has been the case with many VR companies that over-spent ahead of revenues. Thus, with Paracosma our focus has been on sustainably growing our capability as fast as we can without sprinting ahead of market adoption.