E95: Percy Stocker, Managing Director at Ubimax – Interview

February 9, 2017


This interview with Percy Stocker is all about augmented reality in industry. Percy is the COO at Ubimax (and President of their North American division), which develops augmented reality solutions for industrial settings (warehouses, factories, construction). For warehouses, they developed xPick which helps workers pick items from bins.

They have integrated with a number of augmented reality glasses. Percy was nice enough to tell us about the state of the art for augmented reality and where it’s going.

Percy also has a great consulting background which we touch on.

Here are some other things we talk about:

-How did Percy and his co-Founders bootstrap the company?
-What’s the longer term vision for AR and picking in warehouses? It’s magical. And they already built it.
-How many years before AR will become more mainstream?
-How much faster can a worker pick an object using xPick (Ubimax’s picking system)?

Dave Kruse: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Flyover Labs and today we get to have Percy Stocker with us. And Percy is the COO at Ubimax, which develops augmented reality solutions for industrial settings and this includes for example, for warehouses that developed what’s called the xPick, which helps workers pick items from bins and Percy will do a much better job explaining exactly what they do. And they are integrated with a number of augmented reality glasses and they are trying to tackle some very tough problems.

So I brought on Percy to learn more about the state of the art for augmented reality and variables and where it’s going, especially in the industrial setting. So Percy, thanks for joining us today.

Percy Stocker: Thanks for having me here. I’m excited.

Dave Kruse: Definitely. Yeah, so I guess before we get into what you are doing, you have a lot of exciting stuff going on. Can you tell us a little bit about your background first?

Percy Stocker: Sure. I am actually – I studied Computer Science at the Technical University of Munich, so I have a very technical background in the technological field and after my studies I decided to not right away take up a technical job, but to rather move into strategy consulting, because I have this feeling I wanted to extend my knowledge on the business field before I dive into things and that’s helped me a lot when we decided to set up the company Ubimax, which is dealing with variable computing for industrial purposes and I can barge into that in just a second.

But by having both, the computer science and the business background, that helps us to take a look at problems from various angles really. Not only being enthusiastic about technology, but actually thinking about the business use for the companies and that’s what always has been very much in my focus area. And in my private life I like to travel a lot. I want to see the world and that’s a few things about myself.

Dave Kruse: What’s one of the favorite places you traveled to?

Percy Stocker: Oh! There’s so many favorite places. Recently I have been traveling a lot to the South African region. I love that, that’s a great area, but I’ve also lived for a year in Singapore, so I have seen much of South East Asia, great region as well; no complain, and going forward I will spend a lot of time in the U.S. I have also lived for a year in the U.S. and I enjoyed that very much and so I’m looking forward to spend some more time here going forward.

Dave Kruse: Oh great! And I was curious, what type of projects do you work on when you are a consultant?

Percy Stocker: I was working on a broad spectrum of projects. I was working for the company Arthur D. Little. They do strategy consulting and I was in the information management practice. So most of the projects that I did have a strong technology focus, but they were really across all kinds of different industries. So I was working in finance, utilities, automotive, software, for train manufacturers, so it was a quite a big spectrum in terms of the industries and also in terms of the topics.

We would do IT strategy projects for these companies which can be very comprehensive or just some parts of IT strategies like organizational topics, how do I have to design my IT organization and what kind of architecture are we going to use? How do we select the correct vendor of that? How do we adjust our sales processes and sales systems for now dealing with a lot of hardware integrators and to trains for example, it may become obsolete over time. Do we need some different pricing models for that? So it was very, very different projects that I did and which gave me some broad insights into things.

Dave Kruse: Yeah, that is a great experience. And so can you tell us a little bit about Ubimax and just how it got started and where you over there at the beginning? I wasn’t sure when did you join and how did that kind of happen?

Percy Stocker: Oh yeah! I am one of the Co-Founders and so we have three Co-Founders; Dr. Hendrik Witt, Jan Junker and myself and we founded Ubimax because we felt that the environment that we live in is changing. So the environment that we live in gets more and more connected and the factory floors that we see, the machines get connected, the products that we manufacture get connected and the cars that we sit in get connected, and so we were feeling that we need some new possibilities as humans to integrate ourselves into this what they call the internet of things or industry flow as it’s called in Germany.

We feel that not so many companies have yet thought about that. Even though if we think about our children, grandchildren, they may not even learn how to drive anymore, because they will just be sitting in the self driving cars or they may not even learn how to handwrite anymore, because they will typing into iPad type of products. So we will be looking at totally different ways of engaging with that technology going forward and what we are likely to see in our private life maybe five to 10 years down the road really.

It’s already starting in the industry today as industry workers, they have the same challenges. They are now confronted with having all the information online, having to access that at any given point in time to really conduct their work. So if they are in a warehouse environment, they will need to have the information on what they need to pick and they will need to have that at that very point in time as they are moving through the warehouse. So this information has to be accessible to them, but at the same time they will then need the hands free to actually perform their tasks.

So if you can display this kind of information on a smart glass, which is offering a display right next to your eye, you can have the information readily available as you need it and this is a totally new way of interacting with the environment. So that was kind of the reason why we set out to do the company Ubimax and to bring these products to the market.

Dave Kruse: And what year did you start and how much money have you raised?

Percy Stocker: We started roughly three years ago and from the beginning we were driving the company out of the cash flow. So we were profitable and the whole time we still are profitable and only last year we had decided to bring some great investors onboard. Atlantic Bridge and Westcott are investors that we have and they invested roughly USD $6 million in the company and this is what we have to fund our growth in companies and countries like the U.S. and to do some sort of special topics, but we were profitable to start out with.

Dave Kruse: Really. So did you have essentially – yeah, how did you make that happen? Did you have a client? You must have had a client right from the get go who was interested in your idea.

Percy Stocker: Yeah, we started out in technology consulting. It’s not so surprising as we, all of the founders have a very similar background as I do and this allowed us to finance the development out of the cash flow really, as we were doing consulting and IOT, Internet of Things space and other technology relevant projects for our customers and that’s how it sort of started out.

Dave Kruse: That’s great. And so when you started the consulting, did you have – did you want to eventually create a product or did it just kind of happen or how do you transform more into a product company?

Percy Stocker: Oh! It was intentionally, it was 100% intentional. It was what we as the Founders always were striving for and we were looking for the right opportunity on what to do and we found that with variable computing. As we were seeing a lot of requests from our customers in that space, we decided we are not only going to consult them on that, but we also want to have our own products to make these things happen quickly.

Dave Kruse: Interesting! And what was the, what was one of your first projects around the, you know augmented reality, you know beyond the consulting. What was – and if you can tell you know who was the client, if you can share that, yeah what was the project?

Percy Stocker: One of the first clients that we had was Daimler. So we did some work under the logistics field for them. They, obviously the car manufactures, they need to get the parts to the manufacturing belt. So they need to pick the right parts in sequence to get to the manufacturing line and this is what we helped them with and that was one of our first customers.

And then DHL was one of the big ones that we got afterwards interested in these topics. DHL was doing a lot of great work. It’s a very innovative company. They do a lot of the early work and then when they see its successful, they really drive it to the market and this is what happened with our X big product as well. They started out in a wheelhouse and that’s already maybe two years go and this project was very successful. It was not only that the solution that we provided was 25% faster than the solution they had in place before hand, but at the same time it had also a significantly higher user acceptance.

So for me these two aspects are always very critical, because on the one hand side to make a technology innovation successful, the management has to be convinced of it. They need to see that its faster, its more reliable, its more flexible, which it is, but at the same time the people that are working with that solution day to day, they also have to be convinced that this is something that is for their benefit. Otherwise things that may make sense from a financial point of view will not be successful, as people will not adapt to it.

But what we see is when we do pilots with our customers and they use our solution for certain timeframe, that’s the pickers will actually not want to go back to the old solution. They will then say, tell their management, hey, we don’t want to go back. We want to continue using it and that’s the type of reaction that you really need in terms of the usability. So that was hugely successful and therefore when DHL decided to scale it out, so then the process of scaling that to various warehouses around the globe, also in the U.S. and that’s really a great success story and we enjoy working with them as one of their technology leaders here.

Dave Kruse: Yeah, and you have a great video on your site around that relationship, DHL and that’s one of the reason I contacted you. After seeing that, I was like how could you pick without something like that. It just makes things so much easier. You could just like step into the job and start being productive probably right away or it would just make your job a lot easier and faster.

Percy Stocker: Absolutely, absolutely.

Dave Kruse: And can you – so we are talking about the xPick, which is you know like the augmented reality glasses for the warehouse where workers go around. Can you kind of describe how the product works like from the worker perspective? Like what are they seeing like, you know as they walk through the warehouse and how does it help them? And then I’m kind of curious more in the backend; do you have like reports and stuff for the companies or how does that work? But first, yeah, what’s the kind of the user perspective? How does it help them and what are they seeing?

Percy Stocker: What we do is that we try to display a little bit information that is really relevant at this point in time for the worker. So what you really see is a very clean user interphase, which doesn’t have any unnecessary information. At the same time the information that we are displaying, we are trying to make it as intuitive as possible. So what we have done a lot is providing graphical guidance. So we will do shelf and we will present shelves on the user interphase, a scheme of the shelf or on the picking cart or we might also show graphic pictures of the articles that they need to pick, because this is going to make it very intuitive for them, which article to pick and where to put it into.

So if I stick with the DHL example, what they found is that their picking cart was rather large and it had a lot of different boxes and so on. So for the picker it was always very difficult to place the article into the right box and they are doing multi order picking, so they are picking more than one order at the same time and that makes it just a little bit challenging.

So what we did is, we did the graphical representation of a picking cart right on the smart glass and that way they have a very intuitive way of understanding where to place articles to. So when a worker starts up on his day, he would typically log on the smart glasses. By scanning a logging card you can do that using the internal camera of the glasses and then which automatically starts the picking process.

So then he would see the next step of what to do and he would be sent to the position in the warehouse or where to get that article and put it in the picking cart and that just continues until he has completed or he returns the card and then he can start over again.

Our idea is always to make it very intuitive and the question that you also had was about the BEACON System. So the solution that we have for the client server solution, our tech sever which is in the backend talks to the WMS System or the ERP system and gets the relevant data, the orders in that case. And sends them to the right smart glass and the server also takes care of that device management and things like that.

So in case a device accidentally gets shut off or battery runs out or something like that you can resume it, there is no problems. So this is the architecture that we have chosen. You can see that we are not replacing the ERP system. So we are not aiming at being an ERP provider or WMS provider, but we rather enhance the functionality by using these types of variables and their processes. Not only do the smart glass that people might be using, but they might also want to combine it with other types of variable, smart watches, small rings cameras and things like that.

So all these types of devices can be integrated with that solution and you can use them as optional input methods. So we can use the smart watch to input quantities for example or you can use the scanner to just scan some kind of codes. You can also use the internal camera of the smart glass to do that. So we are quite flexible and often times what we do is we allow the user to choose themselves in this very situation that he is in what the optimum methods for input is. And we may not even foresee which it is, but we just offer the choice to the user to make it very intuitive and flexible for the people to work with the product.

Dave Kruse: That’s cool. And so with the BEACON, so when they select an item, then it updates the ERP system, which then updates essentially your server.

Percy Stocker: Yeah.

Dave Kruse: Yeah, that’s like – okay, interesting. And I’m just curious and if you don’t want to share, you don’t have to, but has – I mean I can also see where this would really reduce the training time and turnover. I mean, you probably don’t have like a clear ROI, but I imagine it could be pretty good if once you have that data. Have you done any preliminary studies on kind of the potential ROI with your product?

Percy Stocker: I mean this is something typically our customers do themselves. I can just point you to the figures for DHL. When they did it on their first flight it was 25% faster. So I mean everybody that has a warehouse can then do the math and see okay, if I am 25% faster, then I can do 25% more orders in the same timeframe. For some of them it was like 22%. So the performance increase that we see is probably around that range, even though we’ve had customers that actually had much higher percentages even.

When I was at customer side last week, we were just drawing out a project and the workers put the glasses on for the first time, not trained, not anything and on the first picking one that he did, he was already 15% faster than a normal person, yeah.

Dave Kruse: That’s crazy. I mean that’s why I said like…

Percy Stocker: And I mean that’s coming up over time. I mean that’s just the beginning.

Dave Kruse: Yeah, that’s why I said it. I feel like I could just walk into a warehouse and within like 15 minutes start actually being fairly productive, maybe not that quick, but real quick.

Percy Stocker: And that’s very interesting for companies that have for example over Christmas high demand for temporary worker. Because they can just bring them in and they are productive from let’s say the first hour onwards. They are productive, they can do it. And with temporary workers they also have the problems that if they are not trained, sometimes you may have quality issues with what they do. But as this solution is so intuitive, you don’t necessarily have these problems when you use that solution.

Dave Kruse: Yeah, that’s pretty brilliant. All right so, that’s the xPick, but I know you have some other product lines. Can you share what other areas you are working in as well?

Percy Stocker: Oh! Absolutely. So the positioning that we have is we are variable computing experts and in an industrial sense. So any company that plans to deploy variables in their industrial processes, they are probably the right company to talk to. And to do that, we have our variable computing platform, that’s core functionality like workflows, scanning codes, doing voice recognition and all these things that we – these are models that we have ready to go and to build solutions on and this variable computing platform also abstracts from the hardware layer.

So we are not a hardware vendor, but we work with all the different hardware vendors that are out in that field and we have very good relationships to the companies like Google, like Intel, like Epson, Braga, Beta, Microsoft. So all these companies that have great devices out in the markets, we have very intense relationships with them to really make sure that we utilize these new devices to the maximal extent.

So our platform is abstract from that hardware layer and it allows us to do projects with different hardware in the same projects. So companies can take a look and a few different glasses and see what glass works best in the environment. We probably have some recommendation already and have a good guess on the ones that it will be, but the customers can actually see that in the early phases of the projects and try it out themselves.

And based on this platform we have built our xPick solution. But the xPick solution is not only a standalone solution, but it is something that can be fully integrated with the whole solution suite that we have. And this solution suite integrates or includes besides the xPick, the xMake for the manufacturing, but also the xInspect for the maintenance processes.

And by doing that we see companies that start out in the logistic space and then actually say okay, I’m doing logistics, I’m using the solution for sequencing of parts to our manufacturing line at a car manufacturer for example. But now I know that actually it has the contract to do some manufacturing sub-steps and I would actually like to do that, like to support that with smart glasses as well. Because it’s very intuitive if you get the instructions on how to manufacture things on the smart glass.

So they would want to do that and in that sense, they would want to have an integrated solution, because they would particularly – what they would want to do is, they would want to pick the parts from their warehouse, then do the sub-manufacturing steps, and then do the sequencing to the plant where the actual cars are being manufactured. So in that sense our xPick solution and our xMake solution are completely integrated and that’s something that is very unique on the market, because we can really support processes end to end.

We have the strong focus on the business problems. So we don’t have an abstract platform as we sell and that everybody has to try it themselves and how to actually use that. But we rather have people solutions for the space where we believe it’s very valuable. But at the same time if you have additional things that you want to do, you can still develop that based on the platform. So it’s a very comprehensive offering that we really have.

Dave Kruse: Interesting okay. And then what’s one of your favorite glasses right now to work with?

Percy Stocker: Favorite glasses. That’s hard to say because, yeah, its – I can’t give you a favorite glass, but let me just explain to you why. The thing is it depends very, very much on the use case that we have, what the right glass is. So there is glasses that allow you to get additional information displayed right in front of the eye, and use that information in your processes, but it may not overlay your existing view. So that’s usually glasses that are very light weight, nice square, those are deployed in the industrial processes and that’s – you can already get maybe let’s say 80% of the efficiency gains having without really doing a full segment reality solution.

And then there is devices that really overlay the whole field view and allow you to do very impressive overlays like positioning elements in the middle of the room, walking around them, but these are types of devices that are usually a little bit bigger, so there may be other use cases. You may not want to wear these devices for the whole day, but they are very powerful and they can do a lot of things. For example in maintenance process, this might be very valuable. So it really overlay the information right where you need to do certain things.

And so in that sense, the smart glasses are – they have different strengths and so depending on the use case you need to pick the smart glass that fits the use case. They also have different price points and so on. So in some cases when you are talking more about a volume business, you may want to select a device that has a very attractive value for money offer. So it’s difficult to give you a recommendation for a smart glass without knowing the exact, yeah.

Dave Kruse: That makes sense. And you have a lot of partners. I understand you want to, you don’t want to play favorites either, but yeah, I can see every situation has a little different need. And let’s see, where was my next question here; I just missed it.

Yeah, I was going to ask about what do you want to do – what do you see in the next two or three five years for let’s say the xPick or one of the other ones? What would you want to add or how do you see improving it over time?

Percy Stocker: I think we already have a pretty impressive feature set for the solutions that we have. I think what we will see over the next years is that the devices they will get smaller and smaller and especially the devices that do the full overlays will get smaller. So I’m very much looking forward to seeing a few of the new devices out there in the field and I’m excited to work with them, as they will allow us to do things that may not be possible today in terms of the full overlay and that will require them to become a little bit smaller, a little bit more powerful and also to increase the field of view a little bit more. In that sense, the acceptance of the users will be there to use these types of devices.

We’re already – I mean that’s already two years back, we had done a project with a certain device that does the full augmented reality vision picking solution. So that’s something that is actually doing some kind of navigation to the exact box, then the box is being highlighted that you need to grab your stuff out of and then it recognizes your hand as you grab into the box.

So it does the conformation that you actually picked the right box to grab the stuff out of and then automatically switches to where you need to put it, because they recognize, okay you got the item and then it points you to the picking cart where you need to place it into and then it recognizes when you place it into the right box of the picking card and takes it to the next step.

This is a process that is totally without explicit interaction for the user and this is where we want to go. The vision is, that the user very intuitively always gets the information he needs, without having to request it and that the system recognizes automatically what the user is doing and then triggers the right steps to take those forward. So this will then eliminate the need for manual scans, for voice conformations, for things like that, because the system is just aware of what’s going on.

And this will be the direction that we will be working in and this is something that we will probably see three to five years down the road. We will have solutions. I mean it’s already working today. We have it in our office in Bremen. So you can come here and see it, but then we will need the devices to become a little bit smaller still. So people will be willing to wear these types of devices eight hours a day to really continue working with that.

Dave Kruse: So that’s…

Percy Stocker: So software wise its solved. Hardware wise it’s still waiting for some of the new development.

Dave Kruse: Wow! Yeah, that would be – okay, that makes sense. That sounds pretty smart. And so I was curious, have you ever thought about adding and maybe this would just be corny, but kind of like almost a gamification to at least help with productivity and keep the worker entertained a little bit throughout the day. Once you have more of a full overlay, would you every incorporate something like that or is that, would that be a bad idea.

Percy Stocker: I think it is something we definitely thought about and it’s something that we will probably see in some kinds of firms coming up. We’ve already a got a quote from a picker that I like very much and he was saying, this is the first time order picking actually is fun using our solution, so that’s pretty cool. So that’s the kind of codes you want to get.

And I think we can improve on that going forward by including elements that actually entertain the users, keep them focused on the things they want to do and make the job a little bit more interesting. If we find ways of doing that, we will certainly do that. We just need to make sure that its accepted by the users, it’s not seeing as some kind of, okay, they want to drive it to the next level here. But we want to do things that are actually helpful for the users.

Dave Kruse: Got you, interesting. And all right, so we are almost out of time, but I have a couple more questions. One of those is around your maintenance product line. How does it work around maintenance? Like how does the glasses know that it’s close to the maintenance item of the scan, like a bar code or how does it work?

Percy Stocker: Yeah, I can touch on that quickly. There is a million different ways of doing that. Let me just take one example that may be very intuitive. So let’s say you are called on site, and you know you have replaced a certain type of part or maybe you are even onsite, but the expert is not really there, but you still have to replace the part, but on site you have the smart glasses.

So what you do, you put on the smart glass, the on the part itself that you need to replace there might be some code that you can scan. So you would be scanning the code and this brings up the right workflow for doing the maintenance on that part and replacing the part and this workflow may include textual information, it may include pictures, it may include videos. So you’re really depending on how much information you need. You are talking step by step through the process, even though that’s something you normally wouldn’t do every day.

So even an untrained worker will be able to complete the right steps in the right order to do difficult repairs and if the worker at some point in time does get stuck, which might happen. In both views I’m comfortable with something like that. He has always the possibility out of every step to call an expert, so he gets remote support for the current work that he doing that opens up a session and the glasses typically have the camera included in them.

So you can broadcast the field view of the local on side to the remote expert. The remote expert will see exactly what the user on site sees and can do voice chat, video chat, with the worker on that situation. It’s possible to show him additional wiring diagrams or whatever pictorial information you want to show. It’s possible to set markets on what he needs to do and point him directly to the steps that he needs to complete and this is what I mean about fully integrated.

So we see companies that are doing, also that you see what I see functionality, but for us, we feel it has to be integrated in a broader context and that’s what we did. Bringing that type of functionality into already complex movements, procedures, which people hopefully can complete on their own without having always two people taking a look at the same problem. So that’s what we will be doing at the maintenance space.

Dave Kruse: Interesting. Yeah, I mean you’ve pulled together what lots of people have pictured what the future would be, but you actually are making it happen in the here and now which is…

Percy Stocker: It’s there, it’s there. You can go and use it. It’s a great solution and we have also an addition that allows you to tailor these workflows yourself. Those are the fine performance. You can import them if you have them in structured information, you get the information in there and just load it to our server part and then the glasses can download the relevant workflows that the need and they are available offline, so you can also use tem offline. So there is a – and that’s very helpful.

Just think about doing maintenance on a wind park, offshore wind park. You’re out there and you have to grab on to these things. You don’t really have a hand to hold a hand book or an iPad or something like that. You want something that is in front of your eye without you having to carry or touch it. So you do voice control and all these things, getting your maintenance hand free, that’s what we aim for.

Dave Kruse: Interesting. That’s great, all right and so the last question I have for you is kind of more on the future in general, because I’m pretty pumped to use AR more just into my general like and so when do you think it will be more widely adopted by the general public, if you got to guess.

Are we talking – you know it would be nice to be able to sit down on a couch and watch a move in AR and have like a big screen in front of me. You can get that with VR, but that’s not very comfortable; you can see your environment. What do you see the technology headed so that you might become a little more main stream if you had to guess?

Percy Stocker: I think if we think five years down the road it will probably be more main stream in the industry. So we would probably think about five to seven years for the real end consumers. I think it would start out in the industry. I think it will be pretty much like with what BlackBerry did with the Smartphone’s. I mean the first Smartphone’s were industry focused devices and then they somehow with the iPhone they made their way over into our private life. So that’s what I see as a driver.

And in terms of the use cases, I think the first ones that we will see will most likely come out of the sports area and that’s what people will start out using it and then it will extend from there and…

Dave Kruse: I was just curious, how are they going to use it with sports. Like with the football game, it will be like right in front of you or how would it, what…

Percy Stocker: Just imagine you are cycling and then you have the navigation information on where to cycle on your smart glass or your speed information and you can take pictures and things like that. I mean these are things that are actually possible today, but very few people do use it, because the devices are not so commonly know. And I think we see them in the industrial space more and more, people will get used to that type of devices.

At the same time, I know that there is a company out there that are working very hard to make the farm tractor even more attractive. So make them look like ordinary glasses and I mean nobody is – I wear glasses. Nobody is somehow hesitant to put on the normal glasses and if there is additional functionality in there and if it’s not bulky, then I’m sure a lot of people will start using that.

Dave Kruse: Yeah, definitely. I know I would – I wear glasses too, that’s why I’m kind of excited for it, because then everyone is going to start warning glasses. All right.

Percy Stocker: And eventually remove the contact lenses and becoming…

Dave Kruse: Then it will just be in our brain, it will be a brain interphase, so then we won’t wear contact lenses, but no. So I guess that does it for us unfortunately, but Percy definitely I really appreciate your time and your thoughts and its really cool to hear what you are building. You are building the future, which is always fun to hear about. So thanks for coming on the show today.

Percy Stocker: Thanks for letting me share my thoughts here. It was great to be here.

Dave Kruse: Definitely. And good luck with this stuff in the future and thanks everyone for listening to another episode of Flyover Labs. As always, I really appreciate it and we’ll see you next time. Thanks Percy, thanks everyone. Bye.

Percy Stocker: Thanks. Bye.