20 Settembre 2023
Italian corporations has already understood the potential of this technology and calls on us directly. Our product works in both augmented and virtual reality and can be associated with an app.
Customer data? We generally import it from CAD. 3D viewer? For now we use Metaquest 2, but we are moving towards Lenovo's offering, while we remain on standby for Apple.
Developing hardware in Italy seems impossible to me, it's a different story for software.
As we recently reported on Linkedin, 22HBG is experimenting with the use of augmented reality (AR) for its applications, starting with the evolution of the FM-World app.
This is an innovative and perhaps revolutionary way to interact with the real world and the applications that assist us every day, where many are taking the first steps. So we thought we'd talk to an Italian company that is a de facto leader, having started operating in this area several years ago. Here is the report of the conversation with Eugenio Gatto, business unit manager for "immersive technologies". For those who prefer to listen to Eugenio's own words, you can listen to this podcast.
Marco Hugo Barsotti: let's start with an introduction of Eurosystem: when and why did you decide to open a business line linked to AR/VR.
Eugenio Gatto: Eurosystem has been in IT for about 40 years and, in the specific case of the division for immersive technologies, Eurosystem acquired my company which was called Ragtag which is now the business unit for immersive technologies. Of course, Eurosystem's priorities included acquiring all those strategic companies that could bring value especially in terms of innovation and of course it chose Ragtag because we already had several years of experience in developing software for vertical immersive technologies for companies.
MHB: What was the history of your company?
EG: Ragtag was founded by two partners, myself and Fabio who is currently the other business unit manager. We met sharing a common vision, in addition to a passion and experience for 3D and rendering.
MHB: I'll ask you a bit of a cultural question, then we'll move on to the real technical questions: In general - and we see it with AI and maybe with AR too - why do new technologies excite some people yet frighten others?
EG: New technologies excite because of expected results and frighten for the same reasons, for what one imagines they will allow, sometimes in a dystopian direction (anti-utopian, in other words a future where technology can oppress man and his freedoms, Ed.)
In reality it depends on us how we use them: on those who develop them and guide applications, but also on those who use them and vote with their wallets on which ones should emerge.
It is up to us to distinguish harmful uses from useful ones and take responsibility for promoting only technologies that have a positive impact. Developers by giving an ethical imprint and users by rewarding only virtuous applications.
MHB: Let's get to AR. It may be worth explaining, even for those who don't know you, whether you have a specific product or you present yourself as a service provider.
EG: Basically we have a product which is a multi-platform 3d product configurator that works from smartphones to desktop PCs and works in both virtual and augmented reality.
To help you understand, one of the uses is support for salespeople within a showroom, where they can present the product in a much more engaging way and above all they can configure it.
In the vast majority of cases this is something that substantially raises the user experience and therefore greatly increases the chances of sale.
MHB: What's the process? If I'm a company and I want to adopt one of your solutions, what are the steps?
EG: So the product is called Y Digital Experience and it's called that because it's not just a 3D configurator but a tool that allows you to experience an experience. It works on the basis that the experience generated by the interaction between the salesperson and the customer through this configurator is something that must be memorable.
Our product offers a multi-user experience that allows, for example, a designer in one city to interact in real time with a customer in another city. Both wear a viewer and find themselves in the same 3D virtual room with the product model to discuss. They can configure it, change its features, talk about it and draw on it, all in virtual reality without being physically in the same room.
Another key aspect is that the product is supported by a CMS, so if the customer has a 3D department they can become autonomous in implementation, modification and content management. For example, for a new product you can upload the 3D model, enter the configurations and more without having to contact us, all at zero cost.
MHB: Can each customer publish their own app with their own products?
EG: Yes, exactly. Each customer can publish their own app.
MHB: Instead at the 3D viewer level what do you use?
EG: Currently we use Meta Quest 2 because it has the best quality-price ratio and a very low cost that makes it highly scalable. For example, if a customer needs 10 viewers, having a price of 400 euros instead of 2,000 euros makes a big difference in terms of economy of scale. Meta Quest 2 therefore has a low price that makes it the ideal solution for projects that require the use of multiple viewers.
MHB: And in fact when Apple launched its Apple Vision Pro Zuckerberg was happy, he told Bloomberg "Well Apple, this validates our thinking and in the end, since we cost less, we'll sell a lot more", so what you say validates his observation. Does Meta provide support for developers?
EG: We are not in partnership with Meta, but with Lenovo. In fact, we plan to test the new Lenovo virtual reality headset. We are also in partnership with Lenovo, among other things, on augmented reality.
Lenovo has developed an extremely interesting headset that I consider the best on the market for its reasonable cost and very high quality. It is very light, portable and comfortable to wear all day. It has a series of advantages in terms of quality that competitors do not achieve.
EG: The product is called EG: The product is called Think Reality A3 and we are around 2000 euros for the bundle that includes glasses and the connected smartphone, a smartphone that must be used forcefully, you cannot use any smartphone and this Motorola has a dedicated firmware specifically for use with the glasses. (Editor's note: for those who want to try it quickly, we found it here).
MHB: Is there a reason why you are not in contact with Meta? I mean, don't they have developer programs, or did you go in another direction for some specific reason?
EG: Let's say that Lenovo has a policy that we embrace more willingly, especially regarding privacy and data use.
So we would actually be more inclined to move forward with Lenovo also from the point of view of virtual reality viewers. Of course, we've had to use Meta's for now for cost and quality reasons, because there weren't any major competitors...at least until yesterday. However, I emphasize, we still have to get our hands on it.
We noticed a turning point with the Lenovo device, similar to a pair of glasses, much lighter and more manageable. It goes in the right direction, towards a consumer product, even if we are not yet at that level.
MHB: Staying for a moment in this area, how do you position yourself with respect to Apple technology?
EG: At the moment we would never propose that viewer to a customer, because no customer has that specific need...
MHB: ...well also because it's not even on the market, you can't even pre-order it!
EG: ...Effectively. Our strategy for now is to observe the feedback Apple will receive to understand how it will decide to respond and improve the product. For now it makes no sense to propose it to customers for marketing and commercial strategy reasons.
But in our opinion the real value of immersive technologies lies in solving specific corporate issues, optimizing processes. We have consolidated applications such as AR-assisted maintenance and VR training, but we also receive many requests from companies that have deep-rooted problems in their sector that can be solved through new technologies.
MHB: What market segments do you target...in fact, what are the segments where this type of technology can already be applied today?
EG: Look, the industry has already understood and it is the industry itself that calls us.
It is the companies themselves that contact us proposing ad hoc solutions to solve specific problems they have identified.
In other cases they ask us directly what they can do with virtual and augmented reality to optimize their business. We are very serene, industry is looking for us.
MHB: Yes, but in terms of market sectors, is it more an interesting technology for someone who manufactures cars, just to avoid naming names, rather than an artisan who makes small furniture, an architecture firm... or?
EG: I would say a little bit of everything you mentioned. And more. But let's remember that custom immersive technologies require significant investments, but I have to say that these are often amortized through facilitated loans and tenders, as they are innovative projects.
Let's say they are not figures within the reach of micro-enterprises, while medium-large (or large) companies have the resources and draw major competitive advantages from these innovative technologies.
Think of sectors like AR-assisted maintenance: it saves time and costs. Once these systems are adopted, companies do not go back because they understand the impact on optimization.
Saving resources is the main goal, and augmented reality contributes decisively. Medium to large industry has the resources and gets the most benefits from these innovative technologies.
MHB: Last question, looking ahead. In general, it seems to me that Italy is no longer a real player in High Tech as it was in Olivetti's day (and I'm not just talking about the usual P101 but also Olivetti mainframes... maybe Italy has forgotten but when IBM 360/370 was king there was the Bunch, but Olivetti had anticipated everyone with the Elea. So in the 1960s we were ahead of everyone. Now I don't think anyone in Italy has developed AR/VR glasses... or am I wrong?
EG: Let's say that we operate in a very particular sector, in the sense that hardware has monstrous investment costs that clearly no one in Italy has the funds to face. Even a colossus like Meta that has invested tens of billions, i.e. the equivalent of one of our budget maneuvers to be clear, still has not made a profit, so it is still investing, I don't know if I make myself clear; so we're talking about figures that aren't even conceivable in Italy.
MHB: Hold on, in 1950 Italy was infinitely poorer than today but a sovereign mainframe was developed, to use a term that is popular today. And the costs were not negligible. Why shouldn't we dare to try again, this time in AI or AR?
EG: Let me tell you something. Here in my city, which is Modena, there was someone who tried a few years ago.
There was a start-up called GlassUp which had tried to produce augmented reality viewers.
Here in Modena! and of course unfortunately it closed down because either you have the funds to do something like this or your competitors are called Samsung, are called Meta, are called Microsoft and so... as far as hardware is concerned, I really don't think it will ever happen in Italy.
It's a whole different story for software.
Currently we use algorithms developed by software houses, even small ones, which are then often acquired by the big ones if the algorithm is interesting. These innovations can also come from us, in Italy.
On the software side things are starting to move, who knows, maybe a small company can grow on its own by developing innovative algorithms. We need to regain the courage to invest in research that realities like Olivetti once had.
MHB: Final question, customers: are your customers in Italy or are there any abroad?
EG: So for now they are in Italy but we are part of a larger group called Smart4Engineering, a French group and we are starting to move in that direction so soon they will be abroad as well.
MHB: So Eurosystem is part of this French company? I got that right?
EG: Yes exactly, it is part of this French fund which has various offices throughout Europe and thanks to them we are starting to move beyond borders as well. (M.H.B. for FM-World)