Augmented reality changes the game
By Lynette Lefsrud
Let me present you with an age-old problem.
How many times have you seen something in a 2 dimensional (2D) format and then are surprised by the final 3 dimensional (3D) version? It’s a problem almost everyone has experienced. The house plans that didn’t quite make sense. Furniture that didn’t fit in the spot you chose. Clothing that looked great online, but not on you.
Now imagine that same issue and apply it to building a multi-million dollar electrical generation plant or a new operations facility. Suddenly the cost of your ill-fitting shirt pales in comparison to what mistakes could cost at this level.
VizworX, a virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) start-up is aiming to fix this problem for industrial companies by bringing 3D technology to life.
CEO Jeff LaFrenz says this issue of going from 2D to 3D spans across all industrial companies, but he believes there is a better way to build new equipment, plants and facilities.
“Imagine that we can drop a full scale model of what you are working on and everyone can stand around, walk up to it, look at it and examine it in detail. As if it were physically in the room – even before it has been built. That’s what augmented reality allows you to do,” says LaFrenz.
“It changes the dynamic – everyone can interact with the model the way they need to interact with it – in an actual human way, instead of trying to interpret 3D on a 2D display.”
VizworX is growing quickly by focusing where other AR companies aren’t – in the industrial services space. Most VR/AR companies are in the gaming or entertainment industry and few spend time with oil and gas, forestry, agriculture or manufacturing companies.
“We dramatically change the way that people can interact with data and as a result they have a much better understanding of what is going on. They can make better decisions and more effectively communicate,” says LaFrenz.
In this niche, VizworX has had several good successes since 2013 when the company started operations.
“We have an ongoing relationship with one of the major oil and gas companies,” says LaFrenz. “They are one of the most innovative of the majors and they are looking at this technology as a potential solution to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of their business processes and their staff.”
The company tries out different concepts and then has their business units teams involved in testing.
“The great thing about this from our perspective is that we have customers with real business needs, who pay us to do very interesting development. We are developing some very scalable intellectual property that they want to be able to utilize, but they don’t want to own it, says LaFrenz. “We own the resulting IP and we can then commercialize that. It’s a win-win, as we will continue to evolve the applications through engagement with other customers and they will continue to have access to new features.”
VizworX, which was spun out of the University of Calgary, was set up to commercialize new technology products and get them into the market. The results of which are being felt today as the company gains traction says CTO Frank Maurer.
“We are rapidly becoming one of the leading organizations in the immersive technology space in Calgary, in Alberta, in Canada and in the world. Our technology team is excellent at industrial applications, we have early adopter customers and we will see substantial growth over the next 2-3 years.”
This feeling of optimism is echoed by Board Advisor John Lowe, who says he sees a lot of technology companies that are delusional, with management teams who don’t understand what they need to succeed.
But he thinks VizworX is different. Lowe says the company has a broader appeal with a global applications. He thinks being in Calgary, and not Silicon Valley, is positive for the company because the VizworX offering is currently energy-focused.
“Its application will be so broad, so far reaching, that people who are not familiar with the technology will be blown away. VizworX is at the beginning of this revolution and has tremendous opportunity,” says Lowe.
The next big step for the company is commercializing their intellectual property and LaFrenz sums it up as the classic goose and the golden egg analogy.
“We now have our technology services – that is the goose – and it is laying a whole bunch of golden eggs in terms of scalable IP. So we need to support and maintain the services side while realizing that investors typically don’t like to invest in services,” says LaFrenz. “What they want to invest in is the scalable IP that we are building.”
That will likely mean more growth, more revenue and more staff as the company creates specific 3D industrial software products or apps to sell to industry. With this move to commercialization of products, Jeff believes next year will be very successful for the company.
“So many people we are talking with right now are saying ‘hang on for the ride’ because they see that we are at the point where it will just take off like crazy. And I feel it too.”
Every company needs help from others to growth and thrive. A key part of the Innovators feature is to present THE ASK – something that the Innovators are looking for to move them to the next level.
As VizworX grows, its biggest challenge is going to be people. The ask is for great developers with a passion for VR or AR, and great business development people with experience in selling and marketing engineering solutions into the global market, to join the team.
In addition they are looking for companies that want to work with VizworX and be on the leading edge of technology innovation.