Guest writer Martin Lansard, CEO of Cambodia-based firm Aniwaa explains how VR is playing a role in a country determined to move forward.
When people think of Cambodia, they don’t tend to consider virtual reality (VR) or even emerging technologies of any kind. It is a country often reduced to a few years of its modern history, temples and the many stereotypes usually associated with emerging countries. However, there is much more to the Kingdom of Wonder including a growing community of tech enthusiast, entrepreneurs and, a generation eager to push their country forward.
Banteay Chhmar, a 12th century Angkorian temple in Cambodia.
My company Aniwaa, a tech media startup, is based in Phnom Penh so when we saw and published a 360° video of Banteay Chhmar Temple in Cambodia, we felt we had to reach out. Aniwaa is specialised in developing comparison engines and decision-making tools for emerging technology. We recently launched a comparison engine dedicated to VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) headsets, and much like we did for 3D printing, we hope to help the adoption of this exciting tech around the world, sharing its impact along the way.
NGOs embrace virtual reality
Golden West Humanitarian Foundation
Cambodia is a country rife with non-governmental organizations (NGO). Among them, two stand out for their use of VR. The first is Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, an American NGO that works with CMAC, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. GWHF’s mission is “to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of men, women, and children residing in areas contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance through the development of innovative and practical materials and technologies designed to combat these life-threatening munitions.”
GWHF is developing VR experiences and programs to assist specialists in charge of removing explosives from the Cambodian countryside. Developed in Phnom Penh and still in beta, these programs have attracted attention worldwide according to Allen Dodgson Tan, the NGO’s director of applied technology. This will help not only Cambodia create a safer future but also other countries face similar issues.
Cambodian Living Arts
Another NGO, Cambodian Living Arts, has also embraced VR technology. The organization has taken to filming and recording Cambodian artists, masters and traditional dances in order to preserve and share them with Cambodians and the world. They hope this will help young Cambodians.
“We are still experimenting with this technology but the first results have been very promising. It is allowing us to capture cultural experiences, such as traditional dances and music, within their performative context, making them richer and more accurate.” shares Kai T. Brennert, Institutional Partnerships Coordinator at Cambodian Living Arts. “360 degree cameras are also less intrusive than their 2D counterparts so that the performers are not distracted or stressed by the camera.”
SVAY Sanuch setting up a 360 camera to film an event with The Khmer Magic Music Bus in Oddar Meanchey province in northwestern Cambodia. [Photo by THON Dika.]
VR startups and initiatives in Cambodia
VR in education
Virtual Reality Cambodia
Aniwaa is not the only startup working with VR in Cambodia. Virtual Reality Cambodia is a business startup providing a full range of immersive tech hardware, systems, and development solutions. It is leading the way in Cambodia in getting people excited about immersive technologies like AR/VR and mixed reality, and how it can be used in transformative ways to improve their lives.
Saraboth Ea, VR Cambodia’s founder and CEO, has been visiting local schools, armed with an Oculus Go, to provide demos of educational content and show the technologies potential. His work caught the attention of Facebook, which selected him to be the Facebook Community Leadership Program (FCLP).
As part of the program, he will be working over the next year to build upon the initiative and give access to new models of learning in VR and other immersive technologies, available for students and teachers here in Cambodia. “We plan to also provide them the tools and resources to also become creators of their own content” comments Saraboth Ea. “If students in one part of the world can be connected in positive ways with students in another part of the world using immersive technology, imagine the challenges they can overcome by learning and working collaboratively.”
Liger Leadership Academy
Liger Leadership Academy (LLA) aims to “develop socially conscious, entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow” in Cambodia. Eager to ensure today’s youth in Cambodia has all the tools it needs for a better future, LLA has integrated VR to parts of its curriculum. The result is projects like this one, led by the likes of 15-year-old Rathanak Sovann.
VR in real estate
Real estate is a fascinating industry when it comes to emerging technologies. It makes use of drones, 3D printers, and virtual reality. LASTMILE WORKS, based in Phnom Penh, focuses on developing VR solutions for the booming real estate sector in Cambodia. They develop and manage VR services for real estate agents as well as construction, and renovation companies, in Cambodia and abroad.
VR technologies will not solve all of Cambodia’s problems but it has the potential to play an important part in the country’s development. For now though, the high cost of entry is an important obstacle slowing adoption. However, market trends are encouraging and headsets are becoming more and more affordable, helping democratise the tech where it is most needed and be the most impactful.
Whether it is the bombs and anti-personnel mines scattered across the country following decades of war or the generations that were lost to the intellectual follies of the 20th century, history has scarred this country. While technology may not be able to heal all of these wounds and bring back what has been lost, it can at least help preserve what has managed to survive against all odds and, hopefully, help it grow. And, from the looks of it, VR will play its part.