Ajit Padmanabh, Founder and CEO, Who VR

Ajit Padmanabh is the Founder & CEO of Who VR, a company focused on Digital Heritage, with a purpose to marry the ancient with the modern. With 18 years of industry experience, he firmly believes in the power of immersive worlds to transform humanity. He is also a composer and musician with the moniker “World Void Web”.


Visual acuity is the clarity of your eyesight, measured by your ability to identify letters or numbers on a standardized eye chart from a specific viewing distance. It is a static measurement determining the relative clarity of your eyesight in standardized conditions.
Visual acuity is quantified with Snellen fractions like 15/20 and 20/20, the latter being notable in popular culture as the epitome of normal vision, literally and metaphorically. Little did we realise that these 4 digits will shake humanity at its core and force it to change its vision and direction in the medium and long term, with huge costs in the short term as a result of millions of thriving lives lost the world over.

2020 – The Year of the Rat
When we look back at 2020 as the year of the Pandemic, it marks a pivotal time in the history of humanity, especially for the modern civilization that we are all a part of. The hubris of humanity was brought to the fore worldwide, a symptom of end-times across civilizations in human history. The last time it was the Year of the Rat was in 2008 – a year replete with natural disasters and the Great Recession – the world’s worst post-war contraction on record! 2020 brought the human world to its knees across all facets of civilization – economic, social and cultural.
Humanity’s achievements throughout time have been fostered through social and cultural connections which, in turn, drive its economics. The predicament humanity is facing now is not even a mirage – it’s a global test of humans, our systems and values – the entire socio-economic fabric of our existence on this planet! I am an optimist with an unshakable belief in the strength, capacity and capability of humanity to overcome adversity and rise – together! The scars of the pandemic have forced us to relook and rethink our ways of living. In what ways do we restructure ourselves to rise from the present? One of the answers, in my opinion, is leveraging technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
As per the Congressional Research Service report titled Global Economic Effects of COVID-19 – IMF projected the loss of global economic output between 2020 and 2025 would total $28 trillion and 120 million jobs would be lost permanently in the tourism industry alone.

Investments in Digital Technology is a no-brainer in the 21st century and given the promise of Industry 4.0, it only makes sense to accelerate the same. VR and AR have been around since the end of 20th century but huge technological advancements in the last decade make it well positioned to lead the path of this economic acceleration. The focus of this article is on the 2 worst-hit industries on a global scale – Travel & Tourism and Health & Wellness.

VR and AR in Travel & Tourism
In the pre-pandemic area, tourism had reached its peak with not only the developed economies but the emerging economies as well, joining the tourism bandwagon thanks to their raised standards of living and a greater appetite for exploration. The tourism industry has hit a nadir owing to the pandemic. According to a recent UN report, tourist arrivals globally in January 2021 were down 87% when compared to January 2020. VR and AR technologies are at the forefront of the economic recovery now. Museums, Hotels, Heritage centres and Airports embrace the technology to keep tourists engaged in the absence of real travel. Museums the world over provide some great VR and AR experiences. It’s interesting to note that the worst affected segment of the industry – tourist guides and operators – are very well aware of the technology. 87% have heard about or experienced VR with 73% willing to invest in it. VR and AR provide infotainment tours of ancient sites, natural wonders, museums with immersive narratives. These experiences allow you to consume the sights and sounds like never before, virtually teleporting you to the place in space and time. They also provide opportunities to immerse tourists in adventure sports, allowing you to have multi-sensory experiences from the comfort of your home – Realism in Virtual. The potential for a surge in the industry’s revenue is unquestionable and will only accelerate return to normalcy.

VR and AR in Health & Wellness
Health & Wellness has gained unprecedented attention in the pandemic times. The global VR and AR market in healthcare was valued at US$2 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 27.2% from 2021 to 2028. Surgical training has embraced VR and AR to enable better knowhow and preparedness in medical personnel. AR assists surgeons in tracing tumours, organs or even veins. With regards to Wellness, VR and AR companies are leading the way with corporates, frontline staff like medics, police and defence forces, providing neuro-scientifically proven experiences to help them regain calm and focus, much needed in the new normal. Gone are the days when we had to look forward to care centres or retreats to rejuvenate our bodies and minds. We are in the midst of a global mental health crisis. With VR and AR, we have the tools to keep calm and focus anytime, anywhere thereby allowing large populations to not be impacted by the dire situation that prevails currently the world over. There are medically certified treatments for ADHD, PTSD and other mental and physical health problems in VR and AR. In the years ahead, VR and AR combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to alter the course of medical examinations and prognosis forever. The industry can catapult itself to protect humanity by embracing VR and AR technologies like never before.

COVID-19 is undoubtedly a Black swan event with a long road to recovery. Embracing technologies like VR and AR in the worst-hit industries will provide an exponential growth prospect hitherto unseen prior. Great Adversities call for Great Actions. Mass-scale adoption of
VR and AR technologies – A Panacea in the post-pandemic world – is imperative for the future of wellness and virtual travel for humanity.

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