Written by : Ajit Padmanabh on Digilah (Tech Thought Leadership)
For an entrepreneur and a technologist like myself, the potential of Web3 bringing in a Hardware manufacturing and R&D revolution in India, feels like music to the ears. India has long been viewed as a cheaper alternative for software services, an industry largely responsible for creating millionaires and scores of ambitious tech entrepreneurs.
Now, with the Hitech Manufacturing facilities being set up in various states, including Mysore and Bangalore, it’s time the world takes notice of India for their high-end hardware needs.
India – The Potential
India is the fastest-growing trillion-dollar economy in the world and the fifth-largest overall, with a nominal GDP of $2.94 trillion. India became the fifth-largest economy in 2019, overtaking the United Kingdom and France.
India is expected to overtake Germany to become fourth-largest economy in 2026 and Japan to become third largest in 2034, according to a recent report by the UK-based Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
The Indian Software services industry contributes 8% to the overall GDP currently (from 1.2% in 1998), and is among its largest contributors.
India is blessed with a demographic dividend – 60% of the 1.3Bn population being under 35 years of age. Compared to other Asian giants like China and Japan, India is in an extremely favorable position to chart out a growth trajectory for the 21st century, especially in tech sectors like Hitech Manufacturing, Semiconductors, Device Hardware etc.India has been striving to attract foreign investment across sectors and is steadily climbing up the ladder as far as ease of doing business is concerned, worldwide.
India is also the second largest mobile phone market in the world, next only to China.
The government is taking steps to boost local manufacturing through initiatives such as the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for large-scale electronics manufacturing, Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS), and the scheme for modified Electronics Manufacturing Clusters (EMC 2.0). Recently, the announcement of India’s first semiconductor plant to be setup in Mysore at a cost of ₹22,900 crore ($3 billion), has ushered-in a new wave of focus on hardware across the nation.
The semiconductor plant is expected to generate 1,500 high-tech and high-caliber jobs, and about 10,000 ancillary jobs, according to K.S. Sudheer, General Manager, Karnataka Digital Economy Mission (KDEM), Mysore Cluster.
Opportunities in Hardware Development with Web3
As far as systems’ topology for Web3 is concerned, the visualization landscape is driven by VR/AR. For decades, VR has seemed like a futuristic dream that is just around the corner, but never reaches its full potential.
This time, however, might really be different. Recent advances in the power of VR hardware, notably the headsets and processors used to produce realistic VR experiences, suggest that VR is finally powerful enough and cheap enough to go mainstream.1 It, however, remains clunky and heavy leading to a cognitive loss of immersion for the user.
To add to it, multi-sensory experiences demand peripheral wearables like Haptic Gloves and suits, among others, further depleting the embodied cognition necessary for Web3 immersive experiences. In fact, one of the reasons for VR not being adopted mainstream is the weight and discomfort with the present HMDs (Head-Mounted Devices).
R&D Opportunities with Head-Mounted Devices
This is a great opportunity for India to shine with indigenous R&D that could not only look to reduce the size and increase the comfort of these HMDs but also price them so as to disrupt the global market.
In terms of XR devices, a beginning has been made with JioGlass (Tesseract) and AjnaLens but complete indigenous technology across the supply-chain is still undeveloped. Some of the areas for R&D include assessment of the underlying optics technology in HMDs. For example, a technique called polarization-based optical folding is a way to design lenses so light bounces in the right way to the human eye so on-screen images are displayed properly—but the light doesn’t need to physically travel as far as it does in traditional optics. That makes the space needed for VR optics smaller.
The other technique under consideration is holographic optics, an optics technology that “bends light like a lens but looks like a thin, transparent sticker”. Holographic optics replace glass or plastic lenses, making the resulting VR headset much lighter. In fact, these advances could make the VR headsets of tomorrow, with proposed designs less than 10mm in thickness. Meta is at the forefront of this research with large investments.2
Clearly, the stakes are high and so is the investment. It’s definitely a bus India cannot afford to miss. Timely interventions have already been initiated by the Govt.
Our innovative minds need to be brought together from multiple domains like Physics, Material Sciences, Nanotechnology, Neurosciences etc. across research institutes like IITs, IISc to help crack the pilot-prototype-fabrication-commercialization cycle.
R&D Opportunities with Multi-sensory Peripheral Devices
Today, research into multi-sensory experiences yields peripheral devices for each sensory experience – Gloves and Suits for Haptics (touch), scent-based devices (smell) and gustatory (taste) devices.
A person who wants to be immersed in the virtual world should have no cognition of the real world. In this case, however, the user is well aware of these devices clinging to him, thanks to their weight and design, thereby hampering the experience and the power of Web3, for the user.
The opportunity, therefore, is to look at an integrated multi-sensory device as well as BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) capabilities that can be leveraged to create a seamless, immersive experience for the user. It is noteworthy to mention that initial steps in this regard have been undertaken at various IITs, especially IIT Chennai (Haptics), IIT Jodhpur (Sensory Devices) and IIT Bhubaneswar.
A Defense-Academia-Industry collaborative setup would help accelerate targeted research into design and usage of such devices.
This has huge potential for India in terms of IP ownership, Manufacturing and Commercialization, on a global scale. The aesthetics and function of these devices are equally important. These devices should be disruptive and act as lifestyle products which could yield greater market access globally.
Some of you reading this article may have your own ideas/concepts. The need of the hour is to institutionalize hardware R&D for Web3 and execute it on mission-mode much like what India did with institutions like ISRO and BARC.
It’s time for the world to take note of India as a viable and necessary market and destination for hardware launches and cutting-edge research & development in hardware manufacturing and testing. India needs to set itself up and be laser-focused on the path of R&D, Aesthetics and Commercialization of indigenous hardware for Web3, to realize that leapfrog moment.
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