Interview with Wolfgang Stelzle
By making AR and MR affordable and scalable for business, RE’FLEKT’s
groundbreaking human-centered platforms empower anyone to simply infuse their industry knowledge into customized AR and MR solutions. With clients including Audi, BASF, BMW, Bosch, Eon, Hyperloop, Hyundai, Leybold, Porsche, Seepex and Thyssen Krupp, the international team delivers technology solutions to a variety of leading global markets. Since its founding in 2012, RE’FLEKT has grown to a team of over 60 employees in Munich, Dusseldorf and San Francisco and is recommended by leading analysts including ABI Research and Gartner (Gartner Cool Vendor).
Hi Wolfgang! Could you please introduce RE'FLEKT and tell us a bit more about what led to your founding the company back in 2012?
Hi, my name is Wolfgang Stelzle. I'm CEO and founder of RE'FLEKT. We are a Munich-based technology company which offers a platform for enterprise augmented reality. Our customers use that platform to create their own in-house augmented reality instructions to, for example: make their service technician work more efficient; or to increase the first-time fix rate; or to be able to onboard new staff pretty much quicker than they could have done in the past, and therefore close the knowledge gap between the complex machinery and the decreasing knowledge on the field. And exactly that was the reason why we found RE'FLEKT in 2012, because we thought that the technology has got such a great potential that essentially everyone in the future could become an expert, without actually having the knowledge for doing certain things upfront. By the time I was - I used to work in a digital agency as a project manager, and we were doing mobile applications and websites and all of that - also augmented reality - and we said, "Look, if we want to create a successful company, if we want to get to that vision that everyone could become an expert in the future, then we can do that within within an agency. We have to have a dedicated company for that." And then in 2012 I found RE'FLEKT together with three other partners, so that's it!
What are some of the main ways in which the AR & VR landscape is different today from that of 2012?
What's different than in 2012? Well, that's a good question. I mean for VR, it's quite easy because VR simply didn't exist in 2012. Well, at least not in a way that enterprise could use it in a scalable way, or that consumers could make use of it. For AR, It's different because in AR you did see augmented reality in 2012 already, but by the time you had, for example, magazines with superimposed videos or a 3D model and then at some point they started shaking and essentially you lost tracking somehow. So you couldn't really use it in an efficient way for enterprise use cases to make the service technician more efficient, for example. That has changed over the years, so in the meanwhile you could recognize a real-world machine and superimpose information, which really helps a service technician. On the other hand, you meanwhile have glasses such as the Microsoft Holo Lens, which are of course still in an early stage. But for some use case, you can create a good return of invest already. Take training for instance, interactive trainings where you where you have content which you can onboard people pretty much quicker than you could in the past. And also, in 2012, most of the augmented reality content use cases had to be programmed by software developers, so it wasn't really scalable for enterprises out there. That has also changed with, for example, one of our software products, which is called REFLEKT ONE, which you can use as an enterprise customer to scale the creation of content and therefore make that content creation very cost-efficient. So a lot of things have changed, and in the meanwhile augmented reality can be used in many ways for creating a decent return of invest.
What were previously some of the largest barriers keeping AR & MR technology from being more widely used?
Barriers to adoption - well, I would separate it in three different categories. It is: technology, use case and content. On the technology side, augmented reality devices, phones and tablets haven't been capable a couple of years ago to render 3D content on top of real-world objects in a very accurate and robust way. The hardware was simply not mature, or not performant enough, to do that. And on the other hand, the software algorithms weren't accurate enough so that the content actually stays where it should be. On the other hand, for enterprise customers it's all about the use case, it's all about the return of invest. So you shouldn't be using the technology for the sake of it, but you should understand where your problem is, and if the technology can solve your problem. So, identifying the use cases, which actually create the highest return of invest, was also something very crucial over the last couple of years, and it's actually a process which which is not finished yet. But our customers, they want to understand where the return of invest is by using the technology. And last but not least, content. It is very important that you have a system which you can use for cost-effectively scaled content across your organization. It shouldn't be done by a software developer, because you want to work multi-language; you want to use different use cases; you want to work across regions and different phones and tablets and smart glasses - and for that you need a platform which actually reuses your existing content to publish it for your user. That also wasn't there a couple of years ago, and that's why just now we're actually able to to cross that chasm and to scale augmented reality globally.
What have been some of the most innovative ways in which clients of RE'FLEKT have used the platform?
How did our customers use our platform in an innovative way? Well, to be honest, we're not so much interested in our customers using the platform in an innovative way, if it doesn't solve an actual problem. Because that's the only way how we can retain a customer relationship over a long time - when we solve problems and we create a decent return of invest. However, looking at the use cases, what our customers have been doing in the past - and what you're going to see more often than the future - is that a lot has to do with a combination of, for example, Internet of Things and augmented reality. So that, for example, a washing machine sends a signal to an IOT cloud, and that signal triggers a augmented reality solution on your phone, tablet, or on a device. And when we then see that this is being deployed to a lot of service technicians out there - and in the long run, to even the consumer market - then that's something which we love to see and which is innovative enough, I would say, since augmented reality creates that value which we were hoping for, essentially making anyone to an expert in the future.
What's next for your work with RE'FLEKT? What new projects, partnerships and services will you be focusing on throughout the next year?
We're focusing a lot on creating and establishing an ecosystem around our software product, REFLEKT ONE, over the next twelve months. That essentially means that we integrate into enterprise systems, such as Siemens Teamcenter PLM, so that you can publish content out of such systems into augmented reality. Also, technical information systems are very, very important components to the ecosystem. But also, you're going to see more and more independent software vendors, which are developing vertical-specific solutions based on the software core, which then solve dedicated customer problems where you actually need domain knowledge for it. So that's one thing. On the other hand, we are strengthening our core and develop APIs - so that you can that you can connect IOT systems, for instance - which which makes it more flexible and more modular to other systems in the future, giving more possibilities to create use cases for different types of users. So ecosystem and developing, so to say, an operating system for enterprise augmented reality, that's what you're going to see from us in the next couple of months.