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Epson: European growth plans and new wearable AR tech

Epson was in buoyant mood at its press conference on Monday. Not only was it talking about innovation and growth, it is also committing significant sums to building its European sales structure. A key new technology area is wearables: the company launched its latest AR headset – and presented some convincing arguments as to why it has the potential to succeed in this new area.

Epson revealed its European growth plans at a press event in London on Monday 2 November.

In his first visit to Europe for more than two years, Epson global president Minori Usui (pictured) told the attendees: “I want to tell you that Japanese companies are still world leaders, despite recent perceptions that they are stagnant.”

He stressed that innovation has been at the core of Epson since its foundation as a watchmaker. “We do not outsource production… our philosophy is centred on generating unique value by creating core components and products by ourselves.”

Mr Usui added that on his appointment as president in 2008, Epson was strongly focused on the mass-market segment. “I realised that our business strategy offered limited growth potential because we had become too focused on the competition rather than the customer.” Returning to growth, he said, had required focusing on four key segments where the company can innovate: printing, visual communications, quality of life and manufacturing.

Rob Clark, senior VP of Epson Europe, announced that, to move the EMEA operation “from stable revenue to growth”, the company is to invest €50 million over the next two years, growing its European workforce by 10%. The company will also be opening new offices in Munich, Berlin, Madrid and Lisbon, where these new hires will work in sales-related roles.

The event also saw the launch of Epson’s latest offering in the wearables space: the Moverio BT-2000. Valerie Riffaud Cangelosi (pictured), new market development manager for Epson Europe, predicted: “We are confident that wearables will become a multimillion yen business over the next ten years.”

The new product, she said, “comes at a time when sensors, the cloud, visualisation technologies and mobility solutions are fundamentally changing the way we live and work, and our understanding of the world.”

She added that because the wearables segment is a new one, manufacturers and developers have to remain close to end-users and keep an open mind as to market requirements. “We believe that Epson has all the necessary elements to succeed in this space, and is probably one of the only brands to have these in place: the brand name, the technology, the end customers, and the ISV [independent software vendor] network to develop the proper and accurate applications.”

Designed for the industrial market, the Moverio BT-2000 is IP54 certified. It contains display panels that use technology refined in Epson projectors, said Riffaud Cangelosi. The headset has been designed for rugged use while still being wearable for continuous use. It is connected to a base unit that contains two removable, rechargeable batteries to provide an eight-hour working time. The base unit contains large buttons that can be operated by a gloved hand.

Thanks to the inclusion of sensors, it can also be operated using voice, gesture control or head tracking. It features a 5MP front-facing camera, enabling the user to stream or record video or pictures to obtain advice from elsewhere. A range of augmented reality apps from third-party developers is available.

We had a chance to try out the Moverio BT-2000 after the presentations. Scanning a barcode on the projector with the headset, called up an app (created by Ubimax) which guided us through the steps required to replace part of a projector. An overlay of the relevant part, showing the screws to remove was overlaid onto our field of view – and we could also call up a video that showed the task being carried out.

While the BT-2000 is strongly focused on the industrial market, Epson sees opportunities for consumer, commercial and service markets for its wearables technology. Two more products are due to be launched in February.

Addressing Epson’s projector business, Neil Colquhoun, business director, visual instruments, Epson Europe, cited the company’s leading position in the projection market for the past 14 years, “with a market share equal to that of three closest rivals combined”. The company has also achieved a share of more than 50% in the global market for interactive projection in collaborative meeting rooms with its 3LCD technology. The award-winning EB-1400 series offers split-screen functionality between content and videoconference, and the ability to allow four different groups to share, annotate and discuss the same content from anywhere. “All of which reduces the need for physical collaboration spaces, saving time and money on travel,” he added.

The next generation of projector products is already in the pipeline, he concluded. “Epson’s UST projectors are market leaders, and we’ll continue to build on this through our new solutions, in line with the growth in demand for collaborative tools.”

Epson Europe
Ubiquitous computing from Ubimax