The year of achievements in virtual education from Altair VR
I am the CEO of Altair Digital — a company that merges the concept of educational entertainment with virtual reality technologies. I would like to sum up with truly fantastic year, which has seen us launch a successful franchise, head the global Oculus Store app list, and develop a blockchain-based Virtual Wikipedia project.
Starting from 2010, we have been helping kids discover the world through technology. At first we would bring mobile planetariums to schools across Russia and show kids educational shows about outer space and the world around us.
Over half a million kids visited our network of mobile planetariums, which the largest in the CIS. We did not just promote astronomy: our shows covered Earch sciences, history, biology, and physics. Kids and even adults were wowed, but eventually the technology started getting old. We began searching for a way to radically enhance our services; the solution we found was based on virtual reality.
We began the development phase in 2016, and in January 2017 we released the Altair Fulldome Cinema app (later renamed Amazing Cinema) for Gear VR goggles. Our app transported users to a 200-seat planetarium with a 20-meter-wide screen, allowing them to watch edutainment films in 2K quality. During the first month after its release, the app was downloaded 40 thousand times — it is almost 1% of the total number of Gear VR devices sold worldwide! The app was mostly downloaded by U.S. users.
In March, we won the Best IT Project award at the Skolkovo Startup Tour and received the right to participate in the finals of the all-Russian Startup Village competition, where we made top-15 and got to present our project at the main startup even in the country.
On April 12, we launched our Altair VR Virtual Planetarium franchise, which packs our seven years of experience on the education market into a set of straightforward, step-by-step guidelines. The franchise idea is simple: any entrepreneur can buy 10–30 sets of Gear VR goggles, come to a school, and run planetarium space shows for kids by pressing just one button. Good VR goggles are still a novelty, and the demand among kids remains very high. A school needs to provide a venue for the show, while kids’ parents pay for the tickets. Required investment starts at $15k, and the payback period equals circa 6 months.
In late April, we were included in the list of top-100 European startups and presented our project at the WEBIT conference in Bulgaria.
By May, our app already had 150 thousand subscribers and firmly held a position in the top-10 of free apps on Oculus Store.
After successfully passing a rigorous, multi-stage selection process, in June we became residents of the Internet Initiatives Development Fund, which has provided seed investment for our project. Over the course of the accelerator program, we worked on monetizing the app, conducted dozens of A/B tests, completed a rebranding and a redesign, and in August finally made it to the no.1 position of the Oculus Store global app list.
In September, first franchisees began their work, and since then it has become clear that our forecast was true and the product will be a success. At present, we have working franchises in 17 regions of Russia. We are very happy that the franchisee community, after receiving the initial guidelines, is developing by itself, generating news ideas and solutions, and that community members support each other.
Right after the completion — on September 8 — of the IIDF accelerator program, on September 18 we started the MEGA accelerator program organized by IKEA Centres Russia. As a result, we were able to launch a pilot version of the virtual planetarium in one of the MEGA malls in Moscow in late November. The pilot was a great success: 96% of visitors enjoyed it, and 87% stated that they would like to visit it again.
In late September, we presented our virtual planetarium to a large number of teachers present at the education technologies fair EdCrunch and collected feedback concerning the prospects of virtual education. Most agreed that the key task is to introduce interactive edutainment tools in various school disciplines.
In October, we won the MTS Telecom Idea competition and reached an agreement on the implementation of the virtual planetarium as part of the MTS social mission to orphanages across Russia.
In November, we won in the MosGorTech innovative technology trek, receiving a partnership offers from a number of large educational web portals.
In December, Altair Digital was chosen as the best small innovation company in Novosibirsk; moreover, we presented our project at the Russian Parliament in Moscow and at the Moscow State University.
This was an extremely productive and eventful year — and it’s not over yet! However, it is all just the beginning of a vast project that we’ve been working on since summer — a VR encyclopedia of sorts, a blockchain-based VR Wikipedia. We are going to bring together virtual edutainment that helps explore the world in all its variety — from the molecular world to the edge of the Universe, from dinosaurs to scenarios of the future. Thousands of interactive VR experiences will allow both kids and adults study the Universe in a game form. Using this framework, we will create new standards of virtual education that can be integrated into school curriculums across the globe.
For the last seven years, we have been setting and achieving goals with a great benefit for the society as a whole; however, for this project we need support and contribution of the whole community. If you like the idea, join the discussion, join our team — let us create the future together!
Urvantsev Konstantin, CEO Altair Digital