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Augmented Reality Royalty

Jun/03/2023 / by Abhijit Masih

Through her company, Illumix, Kirin Sinha is setting the stage for people to experience the power of mixed reality—a world where reality meets fantasy.

The day Kirin Sinha was accepted into the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) one of the most prestigious schools in the world to study technology and engineering, she and her family were ecstatic. “We danced around the room!”

But admission to MIT was just the start. Sinha would go on to acquire degrees from University of Cambridge and then Stanford University as she built an academic resume and gained invaluable knowledge in the space of augmented reality (AR), which layers virtual information on top of real-world environments.. 

Kirin Sinha has been on Forbes 30 under 30 list for her work done in AR. She founded her company, Illumix, in 2017, a leading technology company bridging the physical and digital worlds. Through her company, Sinha intends to drive the shift from passive 2D consumer experiences to rich and immersive 3D interactions. Sinha has built a tech company that is focused around storytelling to enhance the ordinary experiences of life through AR.

Maternal Mentors

In her early life, Sinha’s mother and grandmother, Nani, were the most ardent supporters, the wind that gave wings to her world of fantasy. She found the confidence in herself and the firm belief that she could do anything she wanted and achieve any goal. “My mother and my Nani—both of them are such strong women. Being around such powerful women, who broke boundaries and were unapologetically themselves certainly made an imprint on me. My Nani immigrated in 1960 and was a doctor in the South at that time—and she wore a full sari to work every day. She really was such an inspiration to me and to my mother, for that reason, I think I owe them everything.” 

A Technology Love Story

Though extremely studious, Sinha admits she was more interested in math and science. She even considered studying to become a professor. “Growing up, I never thought about technology that heavily or even MIT—I didn’t have a lot of exposure to computer science and technology. It wasn’t until one of my teachers said, ‘You should really consider technology.’ I left after junior year in high school and went directly to MIT,” Sinha says. “That was really where I learned to love technology.”

The spirit of innovation and the immersion into the world of technology further inspired Sinha. In her unquenchable thirst for knowledge, she studied electrical engineering, computer science, and mathematics. “That really gave me a very broad understanding of building technology and to move forward in a software space,” she says.

Inspired by the world of fantasy

Illumix is at the forefront of adding the extra dimension and bringing digital layers into physical places. Sinha’s love for books in the realms of fantasy like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Alice in Wonderland inspired her in selecting a name for her company. “Originally, the name of the company was The Looking Glass, as a reference to Alice in Wonderland. But obviously, creating a company in that way has a number of challenges. So we switched to Illumix, which could define ourselves, and define it as this blend of the digital and the physical coming together.” 

Developing a digital world

Through her company, Sinha wants to merge her experiences of growing up, which she calls a rich experience of the world, to the current reality where everything revolves around digital content. “The company is focused around the idea of bringing digital layers into physical spaces. Today you’re locked behind a screen, but you’re not really experiencing the world,” she explains. “When you see people spending time together, it’s looking down at your phones together, versus really experiencing the world.”

She explains how her company can bring the benefits of the digital world into physical spaces. For example, when you’re walking through a theme park or a sports venue, AR would enable you to see and experience 3D digital information and digital characters that are built into that world—you can interact versus having it separated,” she says. “Our goal is to blend the digital and the physical world together and create a more cohesive experience. So if you have a venue we could easily enable you to work on this entirely new canvas and experience the digital space differently and do it in a way that puts very little effort and time on your part.” 

Meaningful Message

While fully female-founded companies received only 2% of Venture Capital funding last year and without the presence and the guidance of a mentor, Sinha not only made a mark as a woman-of-color in the Valley but is also creating more opportunities for women and people of color in her company’s executive team. “When you start a company, you’re gonna hear No a lot. Even as you grow a company, part of the gig is rejection and resilience. When you’re a woman, particularly when you’re not white, you’re going to hear that word more than your counterparts might. You have to push and demand the Yeses, and not get discouraged.” 

The tech entrepreneur has endured her share of struggles and her advice comes through her own experience in the software space. “You have to make your own opportunities. Waiting for the right moment, waiting for the mentor, waiting for funding to come in your lap; nothing is going to fall into your lap in life—you have to take it.”

Enhancing Entertainment Experiences

Once a technology of the future, augmented reality (AR), which lets people experience the real world overlaid with computer-generated visuals, is now being used in everything – from gaming to sports and even theme parks. Sinha firmly advocates that AR can transform a fan’s experience of real-world sports, “We are focused more heavily on how we can power the 3D experiences that exist in the real world today, and specifically inside of these venues. So in the future, when you go to a theme park, there might be a digital layer, digital characters and even personalized experiences. We have sports and stadium clients. So when you go to a ballgame, you might have a more interactive gamified experience,” Sinha explains the employment of AR in enhancing existing entertainment experiences.

Augmented Gaming

One of the best examples of augmented reality being used in mobile gaming is Pokémon Go, which had people chasing virtual wildlife in real-world locations, on their phones. Sinha builds on the potential and one of the first projects for her company was the game – Five Nights at Freddy’s. “We built the game that launched back in 2019 and since then, has had almost 50 million downloads. So we’ve seen a lot of interest in that space and in this type of experience.” The success of the game has led Illumix to regard the gaming space as one of their large growth areas.

Visualizing an AR World

Speaking of blending the physical and the digital world for an enhanced immersive 3D experience, Sinha gives a feel of how AR can remarkably transform the experience of a spectator at the ballpark. “Augmented reality can be used in numerous ways to enhance the guest experience. For example, to provide navigation instructions taking you to your seat, or nearby food stalls, or used as a way to allow the guests to participate in digital activities around the stadium or on the field during down time. Imagine an AR version of the T-shirt cannon, an AR flyover, AR quests exploring the team throughout the ages—the possibilities are endless.” 

Kirin Sinha’s Favorites

Most memorable moment

Getting admitted to MIT. A moment of joy and relief and coming together as a family and knowing it was the first real validation I had in my life. 

Guilty pleasure

Eating. I think in another life I could be a food critic where my main role would be to try every type of food. If you need me to go somewhere, tell me there’s food and I’ll be there.

Favorite food

I think sushi if I had to pick.

Favorite movie 

Sound of Music. I know every song, every syllable, everything by heart. I actually spent a summer in my freshman year of college in the Alps in a nunnery and I blame that movie for that. But I love that movie.

Favorite game

Have to say Five Nights at Freddy’s AR from my company.

Favorite sport

Dancing, if that counts as sport.

Favorite piece of music or song

Chopin – Ballade No. 1 in G minor. That’s my favorite classical piece. A Bollywood song, I would say Tujhme Rab Dikhta Hai is my favorite.

Favorite place to travel

India is up there. India and Japan would be my top two.

A person dead or alive with whom you would invite to dinner

I go back to my Nani, she passed away several years ago. It would mean so much to me to be able to speak to her as an adult.

Favorite piece of technology

iPhone. I got it as a graduation present, going into college. It was such a beautiful piece of technology, so innovative and hugely inspirational. 

Favorite Mentor

David Wu. He has that quality to give incredibly candid advice. But do it in a way where you always know that you are supported and looking for out for your best outcome and growth. It’s just a rare quality to find someone who sees you as you are today.

The genie test

What advice does one of the brightest names in the tech world give her younger self?

“If a genie could give you anything right now in your life – career, love life, whatever it is. Think about it for a moment. It seems like a silly test but what makes it so powerful is the genie removes your fear of failure. That’s what happens to us. What you actually want is that you were truly unafraid to fail. It’s the headspace of actually letting go of your fear; where you can truly see what you want out of life and what fulfillment means to you. What would the genie get you? The answer is the absence of fear.”

Suggested PQs

“Being around such powerful women, who broke boundaries and were unapologetically themselves certainly made an imprint on me.”

“When you see people spending time together, it’s looking down at your phones together versus really experiencing the world.”

“When you start a company, you’re going to hear ‘No’ a lot. Even as you grow a company, part of the gig is rejection and resilience.”

“Nothing is going to fall into your lap in life, you have to take it.”

“Augmented reality can be used in numerous ways to enhance the guest experience.”

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