Like many things the coronavirus pandemic has changed, the men behind a new Dubai augmented reality travel app had to think of a new game plan.
When developers Ahmad Daneshwar and Daniel Ashtari first started work on Epic Reality in 2012, they wanted to revolutionise the way people travel. Using the power of AR, their app would give users real-time updates, such as ticket or table availability, when they simply point their smartphone camera at a location.
But, by the time they secured funding and were ready to launch last year, the pandemic had brought the tourism industry to a halt.
“The entire tourism industry shut down worldwide overnight. We had to rethink the strategy. So we spent a couple of months back at the drawing board,” recalls Kareem Elsirafy, managing partner at Modus Capital, whose Venture Studio funded the project.
“We didn’t want to pivot away entirely from the core focus of the app, which is leveraging AR to discover awesome things to do. So we came up with a new idea. We knew Covid was here to stay and it’s going to be part of our lives for a long time,” he says.
“So, we thought, why don’t we make it functional? Why don’t we support people in the reopening process of the tourism industry by giving additional information that’s pertinent to what they want to do?”
The new app, says Elsirafy, would end up serving two purposes – helping people feel more comfortable leaving the house while also finding new activities.
Launched earlier this month in Dubai, Epic Reality is a city guide that provides real-time updates, as well as information related to Covid-19 health precautions.
By pointing a phone's camera at a location, users can browse a listing of nearby activities, events, sightseeing spots, malls, restaurants, bars and cafes. They can then learn about each location’s health and safety protocols, from social distancing and face mask policies to seating capacity and temperature checks, and find out risk levels for indoor or outdoor activities.
The app then uses data from the World Health Organisation together with a proprietary algorithm to generate a Covid-19 Risk Score for each location. This result pertains to the app's unofficial scoring system.
“We consider seven indexes for each activity or location and assign some weight to each index. These are the most important items that the WHO has determined as risk factors. By considering these indexes, we calculate the risk factors of each activity or location,” explains Daneshwar.
Developers also hope to partner with Dubai tourism and health authorities to improve the app.
Dubai was not the initial choice for Epic Reality’s launch, but became the perfect location once the new strategy was in place, says Modus Capital’s Elsirafy.
“We planned initially on New York, because we have an office there. We decided on Dubai later because it was the leader in containing the outbreak as well as the leader in opening the economy back up, from trade shows and events to tourism,” he says.
"From an economic and opportunity perspective, Dubai is the right location for Epic Reality to be able to provide value."
Co-developer Ashtari says the app has the potential to become a major social media platform.
“It was always part of the original vision to turn it into something much bigger. For example, Clubhouse targeted an audience that Instagram did not. AR technology is something we don’t have on social media yet,” he explains.
“Users can create events on different locations and others can see the events and join, for instance. They can also add costs, comments, offers and even targeted ads. This is why this platform has so much potential.”
The app is currently available in Dubai, with plans to roll it out across the UAE in the near future, and major cities in the Middle East, the US and Europe will also be added to Epic Reality, its founders say.
“Our app was originally for the tourism industry and for tourists, to help them navigate, discover activities and book tours. Then Covid hit. But we turned the situation around and turned the threat into an opportunity,” adds Ashtari.
“Now you can not only discover new activities, but you can find out the risk factors. People want to go out but also want to be safe. And Epic Reality gives them ways to do both.”