Jan Zizka, Co-founder and CEO of Photoneo tells us about equipping robots with vision and intelligence to enable them to see and understand the world around them.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jan Zizka: Thank you for asking. We are doing well.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Photoneo.
Jan Zizka: My passion for technologies started in my early childhood. When I was older, I dived into the world of graphics and found it easy to create something in the digital world. However, robot vision was something much more difficult and all the more fascinating. I thought it was quite a challenge to be able to translate the real world into digital in such a way that robots would actually understand it.
Eight years ago, I decided to found Photoneo together with Tomas Kovacovsky, CTO, and Michal Maly, Director of AI. Today the company has more than 140 employees working towards a common vision – to equip robots with vision and intelligence to enable them to see and understand the world around. Our desire is to help companies increase their productivity and efficiency, reduce costs, and make the workspace a safer place by eliminating physically demanding manual tasks.
How does Photoneo innovate?
Jan Zizka: We are very lucky to have a team of the most talented and motivated people with a strong drive to work hard, think outside the box, and contribute to the most advanced technologies transforming businesses.
We developed a unique technology that, as the only method in the world, enables the 3D scanning of fast-moving scenes at high quality. Our novel approach uses structured light in combination with a proprietary CMOS image sensor featuring a mosaic pixel pattern. The technique, so to say, “freezes” the scene during the acquisition stage and gets multiple virtual images of it from one shot of the sensor. That is why we named the technology “Parallel Structured Light.” The method powers our 3D camera MotionCam-3D, which was recognized with a number of prestigious international awards as the best 3D camera in the world.
By combining our 3D vision systems with robot intelligence, we strive to provide the most advanced solutions that help businesses automate the widest range of tasks. We continuously work on our AI algorithms to make our solutions extremely universal and flexible, which is one of the top requirements of the current market.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Jan Zizka: The pandemic forced many businesses to stop their projects or close permanently. This has lead to an increased demand for automation solutions that would help business operations return back to normal. We can feel this effect also at Photoneo – the interest in automation is stronger than before. On the other hand, approval processes take longer now, and final decisions are made at a slower pace.
Despite the difficult global situation, I’m happy to say that Photoneo operations have not been significantly affected. Of course, in most cases, the standard workplace has been moved to homes, but our R&D, production, and sales continue on the same track as before.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Jan Zizka: We needed to adapt to the new situation and take decisions that would, on the one hand, enable us to keep our operations unaffected, and on the other hand, reduce the impact on our employees as much as possible. We needed to find the most optimal way, which meant that we reduced certain positions but also opened new ones.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Jan Zizka: Customer relationship is at the core of our thinking. We always try to provide to our customers’ solutions that help them solve their challenges as best as possible. We consider ourselves problem solvers, and this logic is the basic principle behind our striving. That is why we continuously improve our customer relationship management tools and processes. We provide top-class 5-star support to all customers who need our help; we offer monthly training for our products, specialized 1on1 sessions with our engineering team, or webinars & blogs where they can always get the latest developments within the automation field. From the sales point of view, we are doing all we can to stay close to our existing as well as potential customers, offering them consultancy on the challenges they face. All in all, we believe that constant and continuous communication and transparency are the best way to develop long-lasting and high-quality customer relationships.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Jan Zizka: We have not received any notable support that would help us keep our business afloat.
Your final thoughts?
Jan Zizka: Last year proved to be one of the most challenging years for most of us. We all realized the importance of flexibility and adaptability to new situations, the value of strong and reliable collaboration, and of hard work and innovative thinking.
Despite the global effects of the pandemic, Photoneo successfully released new products and solutions aimed to help modernize and boost an infinite range of processes by adopting smart automation. We introduced MotionCam-3D, the new generation of PhoXi 3D Scanners, advanced bin picking solution Bin Picking Studio 1.5.0, as well as our solutions and systems to achieve a fully automated warehouse. Our endeavor and dedication were recognized with the IERA Award 2020, the inspect award 2021, and the inVision Top Innovations award 2021.
However, we could not enjoy these successes without our customers’ support. We are grateful for every single project and partnership that we started in 2020. Now we are looking forward to discovering new spaces for advanced, vision-guided automation solutions and for taking up new, interesting projects.