Kalpnik uses AR & VR to help people 'go' to any place of worship

Apul Nahata, former chief technology officer at Reliance Industries-sponsored venture fund GenNext Ventures, had the eureka moment when his parents wanted to go to the Birla Mandir near Kalyan, but could not do so because climbing the stairs was an issue.
 
Nahata’s friends John Kuruvilla, a Reliance Jio and Deccan Airlines veteran, and Ashwani Garg, former director of APACSmart home and building at Intel, had similar stories to narrate. It got the veterans thinking. Could they possibly use technology to solve this unique need?
 
The thrill of starting up after being in leadership roles was too good to let go and they got together to build ‘Kalpnik’, a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) product that could help people ‘go’ to any place of worship. All the user had to do was strap on the headgear.
 
“When we started, people did not understand. When we went to temples, people were like, ‘Boss, what are you doing?’ We had nothing to show to them. We wanted to build a product company from India that was globally a first of its kind,” said Kuruvilla. “In 2016, VR/AR was largely entrenched in the gaming sector, but we felt that this technology can be applied in a unique way to solve devotees’ problems.”
 
The first break came when they met a few former IITians at ISKCON Mumbai, who believed that such a product might possibly be good for their devotees around the globe. One thing led to another and they soon developed an app ‘VR DEVOTEE’, on both Android and iOS.
 
“After 18 months of extensive ground research in India and the US, we went live on January 25 with live streaming of The Flower Festival at ISKCON. In two days, with no marketing from our end we got close to 2,000 downloads and streamed to close to 500 devotees concurrently, out of which 80% were from India and 10% from the US and 10% from the Middle East,” said Kuruvilla.
 
Kalpnik has tied up with around six temples now and is in the process of getting 12 more on board. The biggest challenge was distinguishing themselves from other religious content that was available and finding answers to various customer pain points. The team began investing in high-end cameras and creating the right rigs to shoot with multiple cameras.
 
“We received feedback like, the headset is heavy, can you change it? The lenses are not giving a holistic view, can you look at bigger lenses? We worked with a product company to deliver the experience,” said Kuruvilla.
 
Kalpnik, which has raised $500,000 from a clutch of angel investors at Venture Catalysts, works on a freemium model, wherein people can watch part of the video for free and need to subscribe for the rest. The company plans to get around 100 places of worship on its platform by the year-end and is also in the process of setting up ‘Darshan Experience Zone’ in residential neighbourhoods. These zones can be shops in neighbourhoods, wherein people can walk in to have the VR experience.
 
“The use of cutting-edge virtual reality and augmented reality technologies for the benefit of NRIs, millennials who are stretched for time, senior and other citizens, who wish to participate actively in either daily or significant religious rituals and ceremonies, without having to physically visit various sites, will prove a major boon not only within India, but across the world. The credentials of the team are impressive and complimentary,” said Ashwini Kakkar, executive vice chairman of Mercury Travels, who has invested in the company.
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