SINGAPORE: Singapore's fledgling virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) industry is looking to benefit from the growing convergence between technology and media content – a key focus of the newly formed Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
In August, the International Data Corporation (IDC) projected the global VR and AR market to grow to more than US$162 billion by 2020 - up from just US$5.2 billion in 2016.
Singaporean companies are already taking advantage of the growth.
For instance, Paofit Technology's RunSocial social fitness app ensured that British astronaut Tim Peake would not miss out on running the London Marathon in April this year – live, and against fellow participants – despite being on the International Space Station, more than 330 kilometres above the competition.
It did this through its 360-degree video technology – capturing views along the entire length of the run, which is matched appropriately to the user’s running or cycling speed. Other users are represented by customisable 3D avatars, which can be tagged with information like their names and nationality.
(Image: Paofit Technology)
“The video is wonderful but actually, it’s running with others that we think is the most interesting,” said the company’s co-founder Marc Hardy. “It’s social not in the sense of texting each other while you’re running, but just sharing that experience and being together.”
The technology could prove useful in space, where issues of fitness and the psychological impact of loneliness could impact an astronaut’s well-being.
"They're just people like the rest of us, and the issues of motivation - the problems we're trying to solve down here are equally an issue up there," said Mr Hardy, when asked about other tie-ups with NASA and the European Space Agency. "In fitness for astronauts, especially in microgravity in space, it's not just good to be slim. It's actually life and death. You have to be strong especially for re-entry, when you come back down to Earth."
The company said it has received much support from agencies like SPRING and NUS Enterprise, and hopes to repay the favour by being an inspiration for other start-ups to follow.
"Singapore's pretty amazing frankly, in terms of the programmes and the level of support you get especially in the early stages," said Mr Hardy. "The Government really does take risks to kickstart this whole thing as it were. And it's been invaluable for us because what we're doing is hard, and it's risky."
CHALLENGES FOR LOCAL FIRMS
But Mr Hardy said local firms face big problems in attracting local talent, compared to bigger brands, or innovation hubs like Silicon Valley.
"Especially in technology, because it's a global talent war,” he said. “And if they're good, they have options. They can work for one of the big sexy brands, whether here or overseas, because everyone's looking for great technologists.
”This is a small place, so it's just a smaller place to tap into. A great coder is an absolute game-changer. They can either work for Google, they could do their own start-up. They have a lot of options."
Similar sentiments were shared by the team of five that make up game development start-up Kaiju Den.
For its first foray into the market, the team is developing an immersive horror game titled Lunar Eclipse that draws inspiration for its scares from Hong Kong cinema, but has also been careful not to alienate a Western audience.
(Image: Kaiju Den)
“It’s not a really well-known technology - some of people are not willing to jump into this (because) they feel that it’s not safe, and they want to move into safer working environments with less risk,” said co-founder Willy Wong.
“If this continues, it will stifle growth – particularly to Singapore,” he added. “Because we have been to China, we’ve been to Japan, and we see that they’re more receptive towards AR and VR compared to Singapore.
“They really embrace it and have very good ideas about how to implement these technologies into their daily lives, or implement it as a form of content development. We feel that if we do not have this kind of open mindset, we would tend to lose out in this growing market.”
EYEING FUTURE DEVELOPMENT
In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, IMDA said it is encouraging experimentation of innovative content such as VR by facilitating more cross-collaborations between the tech, game and online content communities. These include offering shared production facilities, capability development programmes and business networking sessions at its Creators' Space in one-north.
IMDA added that it will continue to support growth and development of capabilities in new skills – whether through initiatives like Creators’ Space, or efforts to provide Singaporeans with opportunities for continuous education and training through SkillsFuture.