Interview
"The Kai" is a gesture-based wearable tech that harnesses natural body language to provide a revolutionary digital interaction experience.

Imagine if you could interact with your devices like PC, laptop, tablet and control the onscreen movement with just a swipe of your hand. This is precisely what “The Kai” manages to achieve. Developed by Bengaluru-based technology startup Vicara Tech, it is a gesture-based wearable controller that enhances intuitive digital interaction. 

"The Kai" harnesses natural body language to provide a revolutionary digital interaction experience. It enables creative professionals and enthusiasts alike to seamlessly interact with their digital environment. Now, navigate desktop, browse the web, flick through photos or play games — all with the wave of your hand or the flick of your finger. The entire technology has been designed to fit on a board smaller than the size of your palm.

Vicara Tech has raised $38,000 till now and hopes to raise $100,000 to bring its gesture control device to the consumer market. 

The co-founders, Adarsh Warrier and Abhishek Satish, both electronics graduates from Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), shared insights on their journey so far and what they hope to achieve with this product, among other things.

Abhishek and Adarsh

Here are excerpts from the interview. 

How did the whole idea take shape? 

Abhishek: In college I used to be the guy who always wanted to try out things. I enjoyed electronics because I wanted to create products. So, I used to take every opportunity I could get to create products and these used to come in the form of hackathons. Hackathons are these competitions where they give you all these parts and within 48 hours, you have to make something out of them. At that point in 2015, I had been applying for this hackathon called the Intel IoT. So, this was the time I got my first approval for the application. When I got selected, they gave the choice to take one more person. At that point, I asked Adarsh. 

I have a huge variety of gadgets at home, because I am a techno-freak. So, each thing has its own separate device to interact with; you have a keyboard for a computer, you need to have a switch for a light, a remote for an AC and I wanted to unify all these into one device and have it wearable because it is handy. And that’s how we came up with the Universal Human Interface Device - what the product was called back then.

So initially in the hackathon, it was an orange kitchen glove with a cardboard on top and the electronics stuck on top of it. We have now moved on from rubber gloves to a 3D-printed device. 

A few words about the technology behind this device

The core technology is in the firmware and how we do the gesture processing. So, what we have is a proprietary algorithm that does all of the gesture recognition on board. No matter what device you connect to; it could be a phone, an iPad or a computer, it recognises each of these devices. So, what effectively goes is pre-processed data, because the recognition of gestures and the algorithm is all done on board. It works with Bluetooth, so anything that has a Bluetooth connection, it can integrate with. 

Potential scenarios where the device can be used 

Adarsh: The potential is quite immense. From our own experience to all the places we've gone through, a lot of people are interested in the augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) kind of things. Right now, you have rods as controllers. The whole point of VR is to be more immersive.  

In the medical sector, there is a lot of motion analytics that goes on with relation to collecting data, how patients react after strokes, or in general if they have fallen down etc.

There is an entire monopoly around this device called the 3D Mouse. Now this is actually a glorified joystick. We want it to be where keyboards and mouse are today, to provide a standard way of interacting and a more immersive experience. 

And the name ‘Kai’, how did that come about? 

That was a very random occurrence. We were thinking about a name and one of our friends who’s a Tamil Brahmin said why don’t we just call it the ‘Kai’. Basically, it means hand in Tamil. So, the funny thing was we were looking for Italian names, but nothing was fun enough. And we also had the principle of our company name Vicara, which comes from the Sanskrit word ‘vichar’, meaning idea or thought. So, we wanted to follow that tradition where we have an Indian name sound cool. So, then we stylised it to make it sound more global and came up with ‘Kai’. 

A word about the funding

In the third year of college, we had a business plan competition called ‘Startup VIT’, where we came second and that gave us Rs 30,000. We came to Startups Club in Bengaluru and did a crowdfunding round in Bengaluru and Chennai. We raised about Rs 50,000 from there. We used that money to develop the product a little more which helped us become eligible for a grant of Rs 1 lakh, which VIT was offering for students working on a startup. 

Out of the initial Rs 30,000, we spent Rs 20,000 on our own 3D printer and we used that for most of the iterations. It helped us come for the Startups Club ‘Demo Day’ in 2016, where we won and thereby got a Rs 5 lakh grant. 

We used that to get another Rs 5 lakh grant from VIT for people who drop out of placements. Moving on, we got a Rs 10 lakh grant from IIT Bombay as well. We used that to develop our product further and secured our first round of funding from Startups Club SCINcurator.

What are your immediate plans going forward? 

Right now, we are going through the crowdfunding campaign. It’s been about 20 days and we have raised about $40,000. The plan is to raise as much as we can. So, this has helped us with two things. It helped us with a validation as to who is responding because these are all potential backers. We can analyse and come to know what the general crowd is thinking as far as usage of the product goes. 

Post the campaign, we will try to understand the core markets, and shift our focus to only those markets. Since, this is already a validated market from our users. Right now, AR and VR have taken the lead in terms of usage. So, we will try developing better solutions, specifically for that. 

Right after the campaign which will end in about 10-15 days, we will go and start getting our manufacturing ready to facilitate those orders. We have about 240 backers. Our high-scale manufacturing unit is in China. 

Why not manufacture in India? 

We do low-scale prototyping in India. But the things we noticed in general is that there is a big difference in quality, in comparison to what comes from Singapore or China. So, when it comes to the electronics, we are more or less there. But when it comes to enclosure making, strap making, silicon moulding, we are not there yet in terms of quality.

Ideally, we want to do it in India. Our aim is to give a good quality product. But as of now, the expertise and the capabilities lie only in China. Our dream is to set up our own manufacturing plant here in India. 

Biggest challenge while designing the product

Manufacturing was the biggest challenge. One of the biggest problems is components. None of the components or boards are from India. Everything is imported because they are simply not available in the country. Nobody has the kind of components we are looking for, which are pretty standard sensor components. 

What will be the starting price of the product? 

Currently on Indiegogo, the launch price is $129, it’s a Super Early Bird offer. When we finally launch, it will be at a price of $159-169 per piece. 

When do you expect to break-even? 

If we hit $100,000 sales on the product side, we will break-even. So, the problem will come not in breaking-even but in scaling. Breaking-even is possible because our margins are pretty good on each product, when they are getting sold. 

For hardware companies, there are two problems with respect to scaling. Unlike a software company, each product still has a cost associated with it. In a software company, we can create multiple copies of the same and distribute it, so there’s no additional cost. But in hardware, if we are going from 1,000 to 10,000, we still have to create the infrastructure for that.

What is your long-term goal?

We want to make gesture control the standard of how you interact with machines. Then, the scope is next to unlimited. So, eventually we may even reach a million devices but this method of interaction with other devices has to become a standard. 

Our main focus is in getting people to know about our product and as a startup, our resources are limited. We have to rely on word of mouth, people picking it up and talking about us. Second, our focussed goal has been getting people to accept our product. Our reviews have been widely positive. We have to reach that industry level and scale up in the hardware space. 

Any major lessons learnt along the way?

One thing which we have learnt over time is that we have the persistence and we have the knowledge and also the execution capability to create hardware products. This has been our revelation or understanding in the last one year. Now, we have created an ecosystem for creating hardware products. We are well aware that if we scale up, we can be among the pioneers in setting up a hardware industry in India. 

For more details on the product, click here