During my trip to China, I’m visiting various VR startups in Shanghai and Beijing. In my previous article, I told you about a VR educational startup called Langzou, while today I’m introducing you another company in the same sector, called Judao. But while these companies work in the same field, they are completely different under many aspects and so this interview was absolutely not a clone of the previous one and gave me other interesting insights on the Chinese VR ecosystem.
In Judao, I have been received by its Chief Product Architect ZiYun Yue, that kindly invited me to his office. Entering the company, I immediately realized that we weren’t talking with a little startup: the office was quite big, tidy, elegant and with a big area completely dedicated to VR. Thinking about my little place with lots of VR headsets lying everywhere, I felt immediately a lot of envy. A very beautiful office, with Mr.Yue telling us that in Nanjing the company has another office, even bigger than this one. My envy intensified.
The other thing that I soon noticed was that Mr.Yue was not fluent in English. This surprised me because, in Italy, the most important people of an IT startup must speak English, because they needs this language to connect with abroad customers and partners. In China seems that this is not mandatory: being the internal market so big, a company like Judao can be successful even by using the English language very few times. Even the Judao website is only in Chinese, to confirm that they’re currently only focused on the internal market. This was quite revolutionary to me, another thing that I learned about China.
To conduct the interview, I had so to ask the kind help of my Chinese assistant Miss S, that had to work as a translator from Italian to Chinese to make me communicate with Mr.Yue. Sometimes there were some issues with the translation of some technical terms (she’s not a techie), but I think that the interview went very well.
Mr. Yue started showing me a Powerpoint presentation of his company. He told me that Judao hasn’t started as a VR company, but simply as an educational company 18 years ago. Please re-read that number with me: EIGHTEEN YEARS. Eighteen years in the hyper-competitive Chinese ecosystem is really a long timespan, this means that this company really knows how to do its stuff.
At that time, of course, they didn’t work with VR, but just with PC interactive lessons in physics, chemistry, and other subjects. The project evolved over time and when in 2016 HTC released the Vive, they immediately thought about integrating VR into their solution. Anyway, their solution can work both with and without VR and this is a great advantage when they want to propose it to customers.
Currently, Judao offers a lot of lessons in various subjects like physics, chemistry, anatomy, biology, etc… These lessons are very well organized. Let’s take for instance chemistry: there are various ordered lessons that tell you what are the tools involved in the various experiments and then that let you make the experiments in an interactive way. What I want to mean is that the chemistry experience of Judao is not an open chemistry lab where you can play around, but is a set of precise theoretical and practical lessons that have been prepared by Judao itself so that you can learn chemistry. This makes things easier for teachers that have the various lessons already prepared. And during the chemistry experiments, there are not only visual results, but you can also activate a panel that shows you exactly all the numbers involved in that chemistry experiment (the used amount of chemical elements, the temperature, etc…). So this is not a toy, this is really a new multimedia way to take lessons.
I’ve been able to try some Judao lessons directly in its lab. I’ve tried one to discover anatomy and that let me see the human body in all its parts (bones, vessels, muscles, etc…) and then also to take one part of the body with my hand and examine it thoroughly. I really appreciated the versatility of this experience, that let me really analyze all the human body in a lot of different ways. The physics one was a lesson about lighting, that taught me how the red, green and blue lights mix together: I had three colored torches and I could move them and change their light intensities as I wished, so that to learn by practice how the various light mix together. The third one was the chemistry lab, where I was able to do a cool experiment involving fire and sparkles. I found all these experiences very well made and I think that back in my time I would have loved to use them at school: thanks to them going to a lab to try some experiments is not needed anymore, but it is sufficient that all students wear a VR headset.
For the schools, using Judao’s software there is the advantage that they can spare the cost of having lots of laboratories and the risks for the security of the students. The chemistry experiment that I tried was very dangerous, but I’ve been able to try it in full safety. And then there is the fact that the school can show that “it uses VR”, so it is using a top-notch technology and this attracts more students: remember that in China, competition is fierce, so schools always want to show that they are ahead of the competition. And this is especially true in a period where the Chinese government is pushing hard VR in schools. Mr. Yue told me that now by law universities MUST use VR, high schools are highly encouraged to adopt that and in three years even middle schools will have to use it. Think how it is massive: while we are discussing how VR can be useful, in China in three years all schools will use virtual reality for the education of the students. They are completely revolutionising the education.
I asked Mr. Yue if VR can help in reducing the costs of educations, but actually, he said something completely opposite to the common belief in the VR communities: currently VR is more expensive than traditional education. The price to buy VR headsets + to buy the license of the VR experiences most of the times is higher than the means currently used to teach stuff. He said that there are some educational experiences for universities that are cheaper than the real world equivalent, but most of the times this is not true. This means that at the current state of technology, VR in his opinion will hardly help in democratizing education.
So, why using VR in education? Because it can offer a better service, it can help in learning better. For instance, while it is true that a plastic skeleton is surely cheaper than a VR anatomy application, with the VR application the user can see the various “layers” of the human body (muscles, vessels, bones, etc…) and can even take every bone in his/her hand and see it from every angle. I’ve experienced it with Judao’s anatomy application: it was something that as a student I would have really wanted to have. VR can enable a lot of more experiences that in reality are not possible or that are too dangerous to be performed by students.
He reminded me of the pyramid of how much retention there is of the info that someone gets taught: with traditional methods where the professor teaches and the students just listen, the efficiency is around 30%, while with VR, that lets the students take part actively in the lesson by experimenting, we are at 75%.
Talking with him, I realized how VR is not something to make education cheaper, but something to make education better.
I asked him about Augmented Reality: he said that they are experimenting with it, but the technology is still not ready for education. One of the biggest problems is the high price: sometimes schools even complain about the high price of the Vive Pro, imagine what they can do when someone proposes them to buy various $3000-worth HoloLens devices. And then there is the little FOV and the unrealistic color of the virtual elements, of course. But he added that in China the AR hype is rising, and from lots of sources even there it is depicted as the next big technology, so for sure sooner or later they’ll have to include it in their portfolio of solutions.
Regarding the VR ecosystem in China, he instead reminded me how mobile VR is the most popular type of VR here and while it is great to see that his country has a good adoption of the technology, it is very bad that the most common type of Virtual Reality here is crappy Cardboard-like headset. This is an issue when he goes to propose his solution to schools because his potential customers think that VR is that terrible stuff and so are not interested in a VR educational experience, because they can’t get that this is offered with HTC Vive headsets, that can instead offer a good VR. The problem of a distorted image of virtual reality caused by Cardboard headsets is something that lots of people highlight in VR communities and seems to be a great problem even in China.
Judao’s experiences are developed with Unity and work with SteamVR headsets like HTC Vive. Soon they should work even with the Vive Focus and the Pico Neo headsets (because both are supported by the Vive Wave SDK), as soon as Judao will be able to adapt its experiences to the low computational power of standalone headsets. As you can see, they are most interested in HTC headset because this company is part of the Vive-X accelerator, that Mr.Yue reported is helping them in improving their network of customers, partners and investors. Regarding Unity, he made me understand the power of the Chinese IT market telling me that more or less the 50% of the worldwide developers using Unity is from China. Oh. Wow.
Talking about the competition, Mr. Yue has been very clear: he is not afraid of any competition. His company is running since many years and its products are used by dozens of schools in China. This means that Judao has years and years of getting feedback from teachers and adjusting the product accordingly. Judao knows what Chinese schools want, while every new entrant in the market has not this data and so starts with a big disadvantage. Furthermore, he has the right connections to promote its product to new schools.
Regarding the future of Judao, he wants to improve his current experiences, port them to even more platforms (standalone VR headsets, AR devices, etc…) and also create new ones for new subjects, like for instance architecture. He is also interested in expanding the applications so that they can target directly the students at home, and not only the schools. This way his target market would become much bigger.
Currently, the company operates only in China but plans to expand to other countries that have a compatible educational system and with a market big enough to justify the expenses of the translation: the United States can be a valid example of such a nation. He has said to me that he is also interested in establishing partnerships with abroad companies, so if your company has some material or some VR experiences that can be integrated with the Judao offerings, he is very interested in hearing from you. As an example, he talked about a VR experience showing all the most important European architectural artworks: he would be really interested in evaluating something like that, Chinese schools would love that.
I think that the interview with Mr.Yue of Judao has been very interesting, because gave me new interesting information about the Chinese educational ecosystem and about virtual reality in China. I really want to thank him for the time he spent with me. And I’m sure that his company will continue to succeed, thanks to the good quality of its products and the practical approach based on improving the products using the feedback from the potential customers. And don’t forget that he’s interested in partnerships with Western companies if they can offer him educational content that he can sell to Chinese schools. Or in collaborations with schools that want to use Judao’s applications. If you can be interested in this, visit Judao website (using Google Translate, since it is all in Chinese and I can’t lend you Miss S :D) and then send Mr. Yue an e-mail, or ask me for an introduction. I love to create connections in the VR ecosystem!
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(Header image by Judao)
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