The start-up Iristick has already supplied their 'smart glasses' for use during critical childbirths in remote areas of Congo, and now also has hundreds of orders on the books for use in factories. "A customer from Sint-Niklaas (Belgium) guided the start-up of a canning factory in Italy in real time, using our smart glasses technology." (Source: De Tijd, Jan De Schampelaere, 16/5/2020)
In response to the coronavirus, companies have been trying to keep outsiders off their premises as much as possible, in order to minimize the risk of contamination for their own employees. "But factory maintenance is crucial to keeping them running, and sometimes experts from suppliers are needed to convert and fine tune a production line. Many companies have been struggling with this problem and have turned to us. Our technology offers help," says Johan De Geyter, CEO of Iristick.
The Antwerp start-up developed 'smart glasses', equipped with cameras with a built-in zoom function and a screen to exchange information and images in real time. In just two months, the company has received as many orders as in all of last year. De Geyter is talking about contracts for the production of hundreds of smart glasses. "We are seeing spectacular growth with new customers as well as existing customers who are rolling out pilot projects on a larger scale. The wave started in Europe in March and then spread to the US. So the interest is actually following the virus."
De Geyter sees a clear change in mentality in the industry. "If there's a technical problem, it will now be first assessed remotely, instead of just saying: come on over. That will become the best practice. The idea was already gaining ground and has now accelerated. Companies started to realize that having technicians fly around the world is not the ideal way of working, because it means that your precious know-how is stuck on an airplane half the time. Smart glasses are a new way to quickly transfer that know-how."
In recent weeks, the start-up has done good business with Engie Services, which introduced Iristick glasses at Tata Steel in the Netherlands and 30 other customers to assist a local team with the standard maintenance of electrical installations. Technical experts from John Bean Technologies helped a customer start up a brand-new food processing factory in Italy for which it had supplied the filling machines. Instead of sending people out on site, the Italians were provided with ten pairs of smart glasses. Local technicians could then work hands-free, while experts from Sint-Niklaas (BE) watched in real time to make any necessary adjustments.
"We weren't actually prepared for this rush. We are scaling up production. We have our hands full. It takes time. Getting more than a thousand pieces onto the market this year is a realistic goal. That should generate around 2 million euros in turnover. We are in a market that is still in its infancy," says De Geyter. In 2018, barely 10,000 industrial smart glasses were in use, last year that was maybe 50,000, half of which are virtual reality glasses for training and flight simulations, and the other half, smart glasses like the ones by Iristick.
Iristick is going up against the likes of Google, who have developed an industrial version of their Google Glass. "No, that doesn't scare us. It's a major name, but they definitely don't dominate the market," says De Geyter.
The bigger threat is the American company Realwear that is in the lead thanks to a capital increase to the tune of 80 million dollars, in which the tech company Qualcomm was also involved. Realwear already has a workforce of 150, Iristick employs just 12. "They are surging ahead. That's true. How can we stand up to that? It's certainly a challenge, but Belgium sometimes has a bit too much of a Calimero (underdog) mindset. We have our share of good engineers and great companies have been created here. We can ride that wave. It has been our experience that we are being invited to take part in most pilot projects and are asked to send samples. Whether that will do us any good when the market becomes bigger and more mature, we'll just have to see."
Specialists predict that the market for smart glasses will be worth billions within five years. Then you will have to be able to manufacture on a large scale, and Iristick may have to look for a strategic partner. "There is no need for that for the time being," says De Geyter, who was formerly the head of Zembro, which developed a smart watch for senior citizens. "That story didn't have a happy ending. We waited too long to look for a partner. We should have done that a year and a half sooner." But he's reluctant to call it a disappointment. "We need to innovate in Flanders, or at least give it our best shot. There are bound to be a lot of failures, but some successes, too."
Click here for the newspaper article (Dutch)