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Making extended reality more accessible to SMEs

Ahmad Naqib Idris
Ahmad Naqib Idris • 6 min read
Making extended reality more accessible to SMEs
XR technology can help drive operational efficiencies, safety and sustainability to new heights. Photo: Unsplash
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As tech giants compete to develop the next generation of headsets, extended reality (XR) seems poised to transform how individuals interact with the virtual world and businesses across industries.

While adopting this new technology is an obvious step for companies to stay competitive, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are often priced out of the equation due to the financial and operational barriers to adoption.

Teczo, an XR solutions provider, is looking to fill this gap in the Malaysian market, particularly given the nascent adoption of immersive technologies in the local construction and oil and gas (O&G) sectors.

What is extended reality?

XR is the umbrella term that covers virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). VR allows users to immerse themselves in a virtual environment, while AR augments their surroundings by superimposing digital elements in the real world. MR is a blend of both, allowing people to immerse themselves in the VR world while still seeing the real environment around them.

According to Teczo founder Theyventhiran Nadarajah, the company initially focused on web development but has since pivoted to AR and VR amid demand from its existing clients.

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“When we were established in August 2021, our major forte was web development and mobile development services. But as we progressed, around early 2022, one of our clients requested that we develop the first AR/VR application for its use cases,” he says.

He adds that the company’s participation in Universiti Teknologi Petronas’ Innovation Accelerator (UToPIA) programme, which aims to foster innovation, nurture start-ups and commercialise intellectual property (IP), also became the foundation for developing its ConstructXR platform.

The platform assists in creating a 3D digital twin of construction projects based on traditional engineering blueprints, enabling engineers to share their models with their stakeholders more meaningfully.

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“We can’t expect all project owners to understand engineering drawings. So, rather than showing them the blueprints or 2D drawings, [the engineers] can present their models more immersively on our platform,” Theyventhiran tells Digital Edge Malaysia.

Leveraging Teczo’s in-house plugins, the platform can generate these 3D models automatically using the raw building information modelling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) files typically used in engineering models. These 3D representations can be viewed on any smart device, but the full experience would be to view the simulation through a set of XR goggles like Meta Quest or the Microsoft HoloLens.

“Essentially, our technology allows the creation of virtual replicas from their blueprints — digitising the manual processes. We are offering a cost-effective solution that reduces construction rework and also safety incidents. It aids in preventive measures and fosters a deeper understanding among the project stakeholders, which enhances their ability to work together more efficiently,” says Theyventhiran.

Interest in XR solutions has been growing here for their potential to streamline operations for more efficient project management and training processes, although Theyventhiran points out that SMEs often experience growing pains related to adopting such advanced technologies, facing several hurdles that discourage them from fully embracing these innovations.

Cost is a significant factor in an SME’s decision to adopt new technology. Companies must consider the expenses incurred in acquiring or upgrading their IT hardware and software and the cost of training their employees to use these new tools effectively.

Teczo’s ConstructXR platform aims to lower the barrier to entry for Malaysian SMEs, providing an affordable and user-friendly avenue for construction and O&G companies to capitalise on XR technology in their operations.

Keeping it affordable

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Teczo has minimised costs by developing its technologies in-house rather than white-labelling an existing solution on the market, which incurs additional expenses such as licensing fees and customisation costs.

“Most other companies are currently opting for the white-labelling option, whereby they would acquire the technology from our US and European counterparts, although it tends to be pricey when these technologies are applied locally,” says Theyventhiran.

Aided by Cradle Fund’s CIP Spark development grant, ConstructXR was developed from the ground up. Thus, it is more affordable for local SMEs without any licensing costs.

ConstructXR is almost half the price of a similar white-labelled solution currently on the market, says Theyventhiran. Since it was developed locally, the platform offers features that address the specific needs of the local construction and O&G industries.

One of Teczo’s clients leveraged ConstructXR to construct a structurally complex building in a tight urban space. Theyventhiran believes this would have been “logistically challenging” had it relied solely on traditional methods.

“With our platform, it was able to create a detailed model that allowed virtual exploration of the site to optimise space and identify potential issues before they arise,” he adds.

Working closely with Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Teczo is also developing solutions for national oil company Petroliam Nasional (Petronas) for a bespoke simulation feature for one of its refineries in Terengganu, Malaysia.

“Essentially, this will simulate various crisis scenarios in a virtual environment, providing a safe and controlled setting for employees to practise and prepare,” Theyventhiran explains.

Beyond construction and O&G

In addition to ConstructXR, the 11-strong Teczo team is exploring another XR solution that expands beyond construction and O&G, dubbed HoloXR. This no-code AR content creation platform is designed to enable users to create AR content easily without any coding skills.

The platform, funded under the digital content grant of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), is currently being developed as a module to educate engineers on pump specifications, says Theyventhiran.

The details are attached to the pumps’ 3D models, which can be accessed via a QR code. The code can be shared digitally or placed on the pump itself so that engineers can access information on the pump model and other information directly on-site. “Currently, the platform is geared towards creating AR content, but it can be scaled up for other use cases,” he continues.

Teczo is also in talks with several universities about integrating XR use cases into civil engineering courses.

Looking ahead, Theyventhiran expects the awareness and adoption of Teczo’s technologies to continue growing as more companies see the benefits of better visualisation, improved safety training and in-depth design reviews. He says ConstructXR has the potential to become an industry standard, and the HoloXR platform’s more generic use cases could eventually allow the company to serve SMEs in all industries.

“Our vision is a future where all Malaysian SMEs can harness the full potential of XR technology to drive their operational efficiencies, safety and sustainability to new heights,” he adds.

This article was first published in The Edge Malaysia

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