Aurus Network: Bringing high definition video communication to the classroom
Teaching has never been a glorious profession and before the sixth central pay commission got enforced, the situation was nothing to write home about. With this incentive coming up, there definitely has been an improvement in the situation but still the teaching quality in most of the institutes is not at par. Just as technology is bridging the gap in every field, same is the case with education. Aurus Network with itsVirtual Classroom Solution, pioneered the use of internet based, live 2-way HD classes for connecting the best teachers with students across the country. Aurus also offers cloud based HD video conferencing solutions to businesses. YourStory caught up with entrepreneur Piyush Agrawal to know more. Excerpts: Tell us about Aurus Network.
Aurus Network is a leading provider of high-definition video communication products, including a Virtual Classroom Solution and a cloud based HD video conferencing solution. The products are used by educational/training institutes and corporates. As of date, Aurus has been successfully running a network of more than 10 teaching studios and around 100 classrooms across the country.
Aurus also offers the first completely cloud based HD video conferencing solution, which allows users to have effective business meetings and collaborations. In addition to superb video quality at very low internet speeds (100 Kbps), we offer users unique features like (a) accessibility from any device (PC, laptop or tablets), (b) connecting 2 to unlimited locations in a single conference (along with one way webcasting), (c) adaptive bitrate streaming which changes video quality with internet speed fluctuations to offer smooth playback, (d) in-built video recording with video-on-demand access, (e) application & desktop sharing and (f) support for multiple displays.
Why the name Aurus?
Aurus is a Latin word, which means golden. We wanted to make something as unique and as precious as gold, and hence gave this name to our company.
When did you launch?
We launched the first version of our virtual classroom solution in December 2010.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the team.
I graduated from IIT Kanpur in 2008, with a B.Tech and M.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering. During my years at IIT Kanpur, I was involved in a number of research ideas in the fields of Computer Networking and Multimedia. I was fascinated by the immense potential these ideas could have, if they were ever commercialized. Later on, I applied for a graduate program from Stanford University, USA, mostly because of its history of producing successful entrepreneurs. On joining Stanford, my interest in doing something of my own got deeper. I joined the research group of Prof. Bernd Girod, who is a world renowned authority in video compression. My project under his guidance involved optimizing high-definition video streaming algorithms for low bandwidth networks. Assimilating all this, I decided to startup Aurus.
Today, our team includes some of the best minds. Sujeet Kumar, who was also my batchmate at IIT Kanpur, heads all our research and development efforts. He is an excellent System Architect and an equally great programmer. He leads our team of developers, working on various technologies including Java and Adobe Flex. Customer satisfaction has always been a priority for us. Ajay Singh Solanki, who is a software engineer by education, makes sure that we exceed our customer’s expectations and also gets a lot of inputs from them for new features. We are glad to have a great team of software engineers who derive pleasure in implementing these features in our products.
Was there anything in particular that made you come up with your offering?
My interest was always to take the research ideas and apply them to real world applications. The techniques and algorithms we had developed had applications in various fields including Surveillance, Mobile video streaming, Entertainment and Education. Being in the university, I noticed that the process of making the classroom lectures available live online for remote students was immensely cumbersome and costly. I decided to apply some of my ideas in developing an automated system which could simplify this process and save money. During this time, I also visited India and realized that there is an immense potential for such systems in India, where educational institutes lack funds and technical expertise needed to make successful online programs. Thus I decided to drop out of the graduate program and moved to India to start Aurus.
What are the technologies that you use?
We use Java and Adobe Flex to implement our algorithms and ideas. In addition, we rely on the open source LAMP (Linux Apache Mysql Php) architecture for running our vast array of video streaming servers.
We also invest heavily in various research oriented projects, including those in the fields of video compression, computer networks and computer vision. With these projects, we try to continuously innovate in order to make our products more robust and feature rich.
How do you ensure the high quality communication at lower internet speeds?
Amongst other things, we employ various intelligent, context sensitive algorithms to ensure high quality video communication at lower speeds. We optimize the video compression according to the application context. For example, in classroom scenarios, where a teacher is teaching in front of a board, there is a very small motion in the video, while most of the content on the board remains static. We use this information to selectively compress the regions in video, thus heavily reducing the bandwidth required to transmit the data. We also use other techniques like virtual region-of-interest and person tracking to selectively compress the data.
Video streaming is very resource intensive. In order to ensure that viewers get a smooth video streaming experience, we employ elastic compute servers, which can scale up and down their resources according to the overall system load. Due to this, we are able to support any no. of concurrent viewers (even 10,000+) at our servers.
Are the services available throughout India?
Yes, our services are available throughout India. We are in the process of launching the services and the cloud based platform for other countries including USA and UAE, where there is a lot of demand for distance/online education because of long distances or lack of quality faculty at all locations.
What is your revenue model?
Our licensing model is based on the no. of concurrent users/locations which participate in a live session. For example, a client can buy 2 licenses, and use them to offer live classes from one studio to one remote classroom. The same license can later be used by the client to offer live classes to other physical location. For webcasting scenarios or other public meetings, where there can be any no. of concurrent viewers, we provide a pay-per-hour license which can be used at any no. of concurrent locations. In addition, for the video-on-demand facility, we charge on a pay-per-use basis.
Tell us a bit about your clients?
Today, our clients include institutes like Career Point, Bansal Classes (Kota), Academy of Commerce, GAAP Bright E-Learning, NGPA College, Motion IIT-JEE and Ables Education among others.
Who are your competitors? How are you better than them?
We have competitors in 2 categories:
Hardware based Video Conferencing Providers: Traditionally, clients looking for HD quality video communication have opted for hardware based systems, like those from Polycom. However, such systems present two challenges: They require point-to-point leased lines or internet leased lines at all the participant locations and there is no mobility, i.e. the client can use such systems only at fixed physical locations where they have bought the hardware.
Our solution provides the same HD quality video communication, while working on normal broadband connections (required minimum download speed of just 100 Kbps). Also, since we charge only for the no. of concurrent users/locations, the client has full mobility and can potentially connect unlimited locations by paying for just 2 locations.
Software based Video Conferencing Providers: There are a few products in the market which provide software-only video conferencing. However, they suffer from following challenges: They support only 1 to few communications. Mass communications like public webcasts etc. are not supported. Secondly, they require at-least 512 Kbps bandwidth in order to deliver acceptable video quality.
Our solution is fundamentally designed for mass communication purposes like public meetings, corporate/event webcasts, all hands meetings etc. We employ state-of-the-art techniques like adaptive bandwidth streaming which allows viewers even on very low bandwidth networks to experience buffering free video, while not compromising the video quality for users with enough bandwidth.
How are you funded? Are looking for more funds?
We bootstrapped the company to this stage, where we have a good number of clients and are making sizeable profits. Going into the future, we are looking for external funds, in order to further scale our business model and to build a better marketing and sales force. We also plan to use the additional funds in our research and development efforts, in order to continue innovating.
How do you market Aurus?
Most of our clients till date came to know about us through word of mouth publicity. With time, we have also built a dedicated sales and marketing team, which approaches potential clients like educational institutes and corporates. We plan to expand our marketing efforts in near future.
Are you expanding your team? Are you looking at hiring?
Yes, we are expanding our team and are on the lookout for exceptional people who can join us and build a great company. Specifically, we are looking for people with business development and marketing experience for our offices in Delhi and Mumbai (coming up shortly).
You can know more about this exciting startup at www.aurusnet.com
- Jubin Mehta