Ahmedabad-based e-learning company Designmate has been focussing on graphics, animation and simulations to simplify concepts in science and mathematics for decades and chances are you have heard about their product Eureka.in, which incorporates cutting-edge technology. The 30-odd-year-old enterprise has also achieved two other high points last year — it is the first Indian developer whose app was featured in an Apple keynote and its app — Froggipedia — was the iPad App of the year in 2018.
With Apple Worldwide Developers Conference around the corner (June 3 to 7), The Telegraph spoke to Designmate founder and CEO K.J. Brar.
Designmate is the first Indian developer to have its app featured in an Apple keynote. Also, Froggipedia became the iPad app of the year in 2018. In what ways have these two milestones been a source of encouragement?
These two events have indeed been momentous in the history of Designmate as they brought the company to the forefront as makers of technology-driven educational content at a global level. The chief objective of Designmate has all along been to transform the way education is imparted so that it is not only easy to understand but also within the easy reach of learners worldwide. The recognition that came to us in the wake of the launch of Froggipedia has been a humbling experience, strengthening our resolve to continue incorporating the latest educational technology to produce content that stands out as intelligent, immersive and impeccable.
The three AR-fuelled apps from Designmate are Brainapse, Plantale and Froggipedia. How did you go about choosing the subjects?
We have been developing educational content for a long time now, so when it came to developing AR apps we were sure of making learning apps. We always had the vision of creating something with an extra edge and making a dissection app was translating this vision into reality. The launch of ARKit features and the Apple Pencil couldn’t have come at a better time. It kind of blended flawlessly with our idea, be it the realistic look of the frog or the experience of dissection, which is exactly as you would experience in the lab.
With Brainapse again we knew that AR alone could exploit the topic’s full potential. Brain is a complete world in itself and being so complex it gets a little difficult to comprehend; but we had ideas of building a story on the evolution of the brain and its intricate anatomy right to its cells. AR gave us the possibility of showing these things with a lot of ease and with rich visuals making it more engaging and packed with information.
Talking about Plantale, botany is even more intricate and interesting to learn, but the ways of making it engaging and fun to learn are limited. We had ideas of building a story on the life of a plant and when we heard about the persistence feature of ARKit 2.0 we knew exactly how to use it to its maximum capacity to implement our ideas.
The best part of AR is that it amplifies our imagination and thoughts.
Yes! With AR there are so many practical possibilities, specially when it comes to learning. And because it’s easily accessible it’s going to be extremely beneficial to teachers and learners alike. Using AR in the classroom can make learning a lot more efficient, faster and fun.
What features from Apple’s ARKit and ARKit 2 have proved particularly useful?
The multiplayer feature and the persistence feature of ARKit 2 was something that got us extremely excited. We incorporated the multiplayer feature in Brainapse as a game. So whether you are alone or in a classroom or with your study group it turns out to be fun to learn something that is so complex and intricate.
With persistence, it was a no-brainer that we had to have a virtual plant growing. So we built an activity around it and added a lot of learning value to the activity. Along with these the real-time light feature was also extremely useful to impart a realistic feel to all the objects we were using in our apps.
How much of a help has the Apple App Accelerator been in Bangalore and what are your expectations from it in the near future?
We have been working with the Apple Accelerator team from the start of Froggipedia in early 2018 and since then they have given us a very supportive and collaborative environment. We were developing an AR app for iOS for the first time and naturally there were a lot of challenges and constraints like we were developing it using Unity3D and we had to finish the app in a short amount of time. But the insights and supports from the Accelerator team made it very easy for us to achieve our goal. With their guidance and consultations regarding the user interface and app design we’ve been able to deliver polished, engaging, intuitive and user-friendly apps. All we expect from the Accelerator and Apple is that it continues to provide us with its constant support and guidance.
Coming to Designmate, what was the idea behind it? This was before 3D Studio Max and Maya.
The company was actually started by my wife Ragini who is a graphic designer from the National Institute of Design. At that time 3D animation was the up and coming industry so she started to pursue it. There was no 3D Studio Max and Maya as such but what took this vision further were the Amiga computers and they had the potential to support graphics that were very impressive for that time. So she started exploring making animations on them. One success led to another and since then there has been no looking back.
When your office shifted from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, the first person you recruited was Parth Gajjar, who soon mastered 3D animation. Though his hearing was impaired and he is mute, nothing stopped him from learning. Why do you think 3D excited him back then?
Parth joined us as a trainee for 3D modelling. He was well aware that for him job opportunities were limited. So when he started training as a 3D modeller he saw something magnificent that he could create and bring to life on a computer screen. Gradually with the evolution of various technologies and updates in 3D software his keen interest led him to learn a lot of newer techniques that just made his work still better and superior.
A number of people you work with have varying levels of disabilities and what Designmate is doing is truly amazing. What prompted you to take this path and what have been some milestones for you?
A chance meeting with a hearing impaired young boy of 19 in Mumbai, who had come to seek employment with us way back in the late Nineties and who later on displayed enormous talent and became one of Mumbai’s top animators, compelled the management of the company to think about the poor socio-economic status of the physically challenged in our country and motivated it to bring this often neglected segment of society into the mainstream by offering them meaningful employment. This eye-opening incident reaffirmed our belief that talent was not the monopoly of only the able-bodied, and that physical handicaps can be overcome if one has the necessary will and determination.
All that these people needed was an opportunity to learn and showcase their talent. As a result when the company shifted its offices to Ahmedabad in 2001, the policy statement of the company had a clearly defined clause that the majority workforce will be from among the physically challenged.
What are some of the new things Designmate is working on?
We are working on a lot of new and interesting things. We are developing a new app with the face recognition feature of iOS12 along with which we have other products, like 3D Books that we are launching soon, and VR multiplayer for classrooms.