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China is counting on Apple Vision Pro to make AR and VR viable for their startups

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Established in 2007, GDI asserts itself as one of China’s first VR companies. With its headquarters nestled in Shanghai’s Songjiang district, the company boasts a workforce of over 200 employees, dedicated to the development of XR hardware and software solutions.

While larger Chinese corporations like ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, and smartphone manufacturer Oppo, have directed their XR endeavours towards flashy hardware such as headsets and joysticks, GDI’s standout offering is a software framework known as IdeaXR.

Commonly referred to in the industry as VR engines, tools like IdeaXR empower users to craft and design 3D immersive experiences. IdeaXR, in particular, simplifies the process for individuals with limited expertise in traditional programming languages by providing a graphical interactive editor.

Zhou explained, “The core technology underpinning VR is the engine. When I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey, my primary goal was to create a domestic VR engine.”

Originally introduced in 2010 under the name DVS3D, IdeaXR has garnered nearly 100,000 users in China. This places it among the most popular VR engines in the country, alongside well-known US-made counterparts like Unity and Unreal Engine, according to Zhou.

What sets GDI apart is its diverse clientele, which extends beyond video game developers to encompass fields such as education, emergency services, and advanced manufacturing. Many of these customers seek to harness VR tools for training and educational purposes, as noted by Zhou.

GDI’s strategy has proven successful, having served over 3,000 business clients, including prestigious names like Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, Chinese oil giant Sinopec, Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Disney.

In the first half of 2023, GDI reported an impressive 96 per cent year-on-year revenue surge, amounting to 107 million yuan (approximately US$14.9 million). This enabled the company to achieve a net profit of 13.65 million yuan, a significant turnaround from a 34 per cent sales drop experienced the previous year, partly due to Shanghai’s two-month Covid-19 lockdown and associated supply chain disruptions, as explained by Zhou.

GDI’s business aligns with China’s national agenda to bolster its digital economy. Recently, five Chinese ministries jointly unveiled an action plan to cultivate a domestic metaverse, targeting the development of three to five metaverse companies with global influence by 2025. This initiative involves advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and VR technologies.

Another national blueprint unveiled in November aimed to propel China’s MR industry to a market value of 350 billion yuan, with shipments of 25 million MR devices by 2026. In July of the previous year, the Shanghai government announced the establishment of a roughly 10 billion yuan industry fund dedicated to metaverse development.

Zhou emphasized GDI’s commitment to supporting homegrown technology, explaining how they adapted their engine to domestic operating systems and hardware. Notably, IdeaXR is now compatible with Kylin, an operating system originally developed by the National University of Defence Technology in Changsha, central Hunan province.

GDI’s efforts align with Beijing’s broader initiative to enhance the country’s technological self-reliance, aiming to reduce dependence on US exports of advanced technologies like semiconductors, amid escalating tensions in the tech realm between the two nations.

Presently, IdeaXR still relies on graphics processing units manufactured by US chip giant NVIDIA, which provide the high-performance computing necessary for rendering 3D graphics. However, Zhou indicated that GDI remains open to utilizing chips conforming to the standards of British firm Arm or US company Intel.

Zhou highlighted the recent advancements in AI, which have opened up new possibilities for XR technology. He noted, “In the past two years, AI technology has gradually integrated with XR, especially after the launch of ChatGPT,” referencing the AI chatbot developed by US startup OpenAI. He added, “There are numerous synergies between the two technologies, and it will also become a new focus for our products.”

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