IIT Madras launches India’s First Consortium for Virtual Reality

Objective is to enable members to create new advanced technologies XR together through research collaboration that would be undertaken with industrial sponsors and participants from industry, academia & Government

Chennai: Indian Institute of Technology Madras has launched the country’s first Consortium for Virtual Reality called ‘Consortium for VR/AR/MR Engineering Mission in India’ (CAVE). As a group of academia, industries, start-ups, and Government bodies, this consortium is being coordinated by IIT Madras.

The main objective of this consortium is to enable members to create new advanced technologies and applications in Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality (XR) and haptics together. Their research collaboration would be undertaken with industrial sponsors and participants from industry, academia, and Government.

The consortium will promote best practices, dialogue with all stakeholders, government policymakers, and research institutions. It aims to become a resource for industry, academia, consumers, and policymakers interested in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. The CAVE’s Engineering Mission is to promote engineering of XR and haptic technology development, not just using XR and haptics, and adoption of XR and haptics globally, particularly in India.

Highlighting the key role that IIT Madras would play in this consortium, CAVE Coordinator Prof. M. Manivannan, Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT Madras, said, “A strong research group such as IIT Madras is needed for innovations in XR and haptics. As an academia initiated consortium, innovation is given priority, much more resource is available for every member, and together can reach a wider audience and achieve grandeur missions.”

Further, elaborating on how CAVE would benefit India, Prof. Manivannan said, “In this era of ‘Make in India,’ an India-specific consortium for XR and haptics is important to make big impacts.”

The Key outcomes envisaged from ‘Consortium for VR/AR/MR Engineering Mission in India’ (CAVE) include:

Ø Develop Indigenous VR/AR/MR and haptics hardware and software

Ø Setup ‘VR Superhighway’ or ‘VR Corridor’ where many start-ups and industries work together for a bigger mission to make India the choice for future XR and haptics needs.

Ø Promote VR Skill Training – Offer VR courses along with Industrial partners to bridge the gap between the global XR and haptic needs

Ø Promote Technology Enabled Skill Training using XR and haptic technologies such as medical skills training, vocational skills training, or education.

Dr. Neeraj Mittal, Principal Secretary, Department of Information Technology, Government of Tamil Nadu, inaugurated CAVE during a recent Webinar organized by the Centre of Excellence on Virtual Reality and Haptics at IIT Madras, set up under the ‘Institute of Eminence’ Initiative.

Addressing the inaugural event, Dr. Neeraj Mittal said that such a consortium was very much needed for a country like India for democratizing the experience. He gave an example of seeing and feeling the Keeladi artefacts without going there physically, and that the technology can be easily assessed by all levels of social strata, which otherwise may not be possible.

This CoE on VR and Haptics is India’s First Research and Product Innovation centre for XR and haptics Technology, transdisciplinary centre encompassing several fields of engineering, medicine, psychology and arts. The center is also known as Experiential Technology Innovation Center (XTIC.org).

The CoE was inaugurated by Dr. Chintan Vaishnav, Mission Director, Atal Innovation Mission (ATL), NITI Aayog. He said that the CoE can be an anchor for bringing various efforts in VR/AR into this centre for solving India’s mission. He particularly emphasized how the centre can help in skilling the youths of India, specifically children who are the future workforce, towards better literacy, in local languages.

As XR is highly interdisciplinary, innovations in this field need a confluence of minds from different fields. While most of the research labs around the world are focusing on either the computer science aspect of VR or the robotics aspect of VR, the centre at IIT Madras is focusing on the fundamentals of VR – perception and illusion. Haptics is the future of VR systems, and all interactions in future VR will be engineered with our understanding of Haptics.

The Inaugural Webinar was moderated by Prof. Steven M. LaValle who is the early founder of Oculus (acquired by facebook) and a Professor of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Oulu, Finland.

Other panellists include Prof. Mandayam Srinivasan, founder of MIT Touchlab in Boston, U.S., and Professor of Haptics at University College of London, Dr. Venkat Sadanand, an engineer-turned-economist-turned-neurosurgeon. The panel discussed the challenges in perception studies and how the centre can make an impact on global research.