CONTRIBUTOR
Managing Editor and Podcast Host,
Techstrong

Synopsis

In this Leadership Insights video interview, Amanda Razani speaks with Johannes Peeters, CEO of VoxelSensors, about innovation via blending the physical and digital world.

 

Transcript

Amanda Razani: Hello. I am Amanda Razani with Digital CxO, and I’m excited to be here today with Johannes Peeters. He is the CEO of VoxelSensors. How are you doing today?

Johannes Peeters: I’m doing great, thanks. Thanks Amanda, and thanks for the opportunity for the chat.

Amanda Razani: Yes, glad to have you on our show. So can you share with our audience what is VoxelSensors and what services do you provide?

Johannes Peeters: VoxelSensors is a company that is building the cornerstones of the new era of spatial and empathic computing, which means our regular computing, let’s say, plus the real-time context of the world and the people inside that world. And we are building the sensing technology to understand that world in all its dimensions and understand the people, their eye movements, their kind of emotions, expressions in order to translate that into very interesting new applications that will be coming our ways in the coming years.

Amanda Razani: Awesome. Can you share some use cases for this technology? Are there already some industries heavily using this type of technology?

Johannes Peeters: It’s coming up. Of course, we see those kinds of sensors in smartphones today, in robotics, in industrial applications. But there’s a couple of shortcomings that we’re trying to resolve which kind of prevents a mass consumer adoption. And we see this era or this shift going from smartphone to the NextGen platforms being it AR devices, mixed reality, virtual reality, even the Ai Pin that Humane released or announced a few weeks ago.
And the killer applications or say the use cases that we are envisioning, that we’re trying to achieve, they’re kind of here and the devices are here today and we’re going to bring them there. And the ones we are specifically enthusiastic about are things like the sense of presence. Now we are having this 2D video conversation, but it would be amazing if we would be physically away yet digitally very close to each other and get that feeling of being next to each other around the table.
The second application that we’re very keen on is to give people superpowers where your actual understanding of the world is enhanced. Think about you need to navigate to a meeting and you’re in the middle of New York and you don’t know your way around and your digital agent on your device can tell you, “Oh, your meeting starts in five minutes.” Usually you would try to get your phone out, try to figure things out. It’s not very accurate. And these sensing modalities will, with that context of the world, really understand where you need to go and can guide you there with visual cues and give you all the updates you need in order to get there in time.
And then the last one, which I think is very cool, is think about how … Yeah, I’ll need to explain a little bit. Think about how toddlers communicate, right? They point at things and say, “Hey, I want that.” And that pointing is a very, very rich kind of interaction, which we do all day. Now, in order to understand what you’re pointing, what you’re exactly pointing at, that’s very hard. Think about when you look at the horizon or you look at the sky and your friend says, “Oh, I see an elephant in the clouds.” And you look at it and you say, “I don’t see it.” And then he says, “No, no, it’s right there. I can see it.” And, “No, I don’t see it.” And then say, “Oh, come closer, look at where I’m pointing at.” And even then, it’s super hard to exactly know what someone’s pointing at because it’s actually a reference, which is a combination of what you’re looking at and what you’re pointing to.
And understanding that very accurately, which is what we’re building, allows you then to make the whole world essentially a world of interaction and a marketplace. If I can point at an object and I say, “Buy me that,” and I have an agent, an Amazon app or something that recognizes what I’m pointing at, recognizes what it is, put it in my basket and order it, the whole world becomes your marketplace.
So those are three real innovative or real cool applications that are coming our way. And then of course you have all the, let’s say, mundane applications like notifications, healthcare stuff. There’s a ton of other things you can start doing the moment you understand the people in that world and the context of the world.

Amanda Razani: That’s so awesome. In this remote day and age, I can see how all of those use case examples would be really appreciated. Just the feeling like it’s more real and in person and the efficiency. So how close do you think we are to embracing this technology more fully in the enterprise?

Johannes Peeters: Well, it’s a matter of adoption. We are on one hand this technology of course that needs to be built. And you see, like we said, smartphones, at least in the consumer space let’s say, you see the smartphones, you see the mixed reality devices of Apple or the Meta Quest devices and you see those AI pins. Now consumers will dictate what’s getting adopted, what’s going to stick, and what people are not going to be so happy about. And there’s a number of barriers that we need to pass in order to have those applications adopted.
Think about, it’s another example. You think about the computer mouse or the trackpad on your laptop. If that thing would work 99% of the time, you wouldn’t use it for more than a few minutes and you’d be like, “That doesn’t work.” One click out of 100 fails, you stop using it.
And so the barrier for those kinds of applications is quite high. We need to get over that high barrier in order to make it a usable experience, a socially acceptable experience, a useful experience as well. It’s not a gimmick, but that’s something really, really appreciated.
That will take time. You don’t go from one step to the next. We see those iterative processes and iterative devices starting with a smartphone and then moving into those wearables and the wearables even without a screen like you mean.
So for the full use cases in its full glory to be adopted and implemented, I think that’s going to take a number of years still. The iterations, the next generations of the devices in two, three years from now, they’ll start to have those kinds of abilities and that I think we’ll see from ’26 onwards.

Amanda Razani: So with your experience and the services you provide are certainly bring to mind the digital transformation initiatives that many company leaders are trying to implement. And so from your experience, what advice do you have for business leaders when they’re trying to digitally transform? What should they be thinking about and what’s the first step in moving forward?

Johannes Peeters: Good question. I think most important for me is to listen to your customer, whether it’s a consumer or in an enterprise. Every so often we see that people try to digitize something without really thinking it through and looking at the behavior of the users and certain things don’t work well exactly the same into a different device. I think we see it in cars where a lot of touchscreens have been implemented in the last five to 10 years, and now it’s actually moving away again from touchscreens because a touchscreen in a car is a very difficult kind of interaction modality. And so just taking something that exists somewhere and put it into your business isn’t always the right thing to do.
And we are a tech company, a deep tech company really working on those foundation technologies for perception for the world and for the human. But we also have people with a sociology/psychology background in order to understand the users, what are they going to do or how are they behaving today and how can we tap into that behavior? Because forcing a user to change is very hard. You better build something that is adapted to the people versus trying to adapt the people to your platform.
I think that’s really important. When you start that exercise, try to look at where are the pain points that people have, and it’s not by taking a phone and then putting exactly the same app onto a wearable that it’s going to be magic and it’s going to work perfectly well. You really need to adapt to the platform.

Amanda Razani: So don’t come up with a solution and then look for someone with a problem. Make sure you’re looking for those needs and solving them.

Johannes Peeters: Yeah, absolutely. And some things are just not digitalizable or need a very different approach, and I think that’s fine.

Amanda Razani: So looking toward the future, there are so many technologies coming on the market, especially in the past year looking at AI. Where do you foresee AI in the future and what advice do you have in regards to implementing AI?

Johannes Peeters: I see it as a very strong building block as well. We have the AI, the models that we are using to understand the world and to see. Maybe I’ll need to give a bit of context there as well. So if we perceive the world with our technology or with any of the technologies in our space, we get pixels or we get information from sensors that are meaningless to a computer. And when we do video conversations like this, it’s meaningful to people. But in our world where we perceive 3D information, it’s not always even meaningful to us humans.
So we need to understand what that world, what it looks like, but also what it consists of. And this segmenting the world in objects and recognizing those objects, there’s a lot of AI and machine learning involved into that.
Once we understand the world, then we can start to augment the world or interact with that world, whether it’s a robot that needs to navigate or whether it’s an AR glass where you want to do an augmentation of what’s physically there.
For that augmentation layer, that’s where the generative AI and the language models come in because you can say, “Okay, I see.” Let’s say I see a wall. On that wall I want now to have a painting of a Van Gogh. And that description can be transformed and into an augmentation of my world. So AI is going to be an enormous element in our lives in general, but also in the space we’re interacting with.
I would say that’s very similar than to digitizing or doing the digital transformation. We need to think about an AI transformation. What does it bring me? What am I trying to solve? I think we’ve seen in the last year is another example also of AI implementations that went wrong where people have a kind of FOMO or trying to, oh, I need to do the same thing as everybody else is doing, and I just put a model online and it’s magically going to work. No, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. I think if we do this world augmentation, we cannot just create the world with an AI model without understanding it. We first need to understand what it is, what are we trying to augment? And then the AI models are going to be super, super interesting.

Amanda Razani: Absolutely.

Johannes Peeters: Take the AI model and create something random, we’re going to get into a very dystopian world, which is absolutely not where we want to go.

Amanda Razani: Definitely not. So if there is one key takeaway you can leave our audience today with, what would that be?

Johannes Peeters: I think maybe this dystopian world topic is really a good one to spend a few minutes about. People are very concerned about it. We see it in the AI world where people are looking at a stop button or that the AI will overpower humanity. And there’s two schools. One school says yes, another school says, oh, we’re far away from that. But you see that there’s a level of fear in there, and we see the same level of fear in those wearable devices, augmented reality or virtual reality.
And we’ve seen in history a number of times, there was a lot of reservations and fear when we get from a horse to a car, it would never work and it would change the whole world and would be no more jobs and whatever. I think we’re at the same kind of moment here where we have all those transformative elements and instead of pushing back on that and having fear, I would say let’s work together and create those kinds of experiences at very meaningful and not dystopian.
And so what I tell people when I speak to them is for AR glasses, which people are afraid, “Oh, we’re going to get bombarded by advertisement all the time and all our senses are going to be overreacting to all that information.” But I look at it as sunglasses. If the sun’s out, you take your sunglasses, you put them on until the moment the sun’s away or you’re inside or whatever moment it is that you can put them aside.
The same for me are AR glasses. When we want those moments of a sense of presence, when we want to do some shopping in a physical world and understand what those objects are and see if we can get them, where we want to get those superpowers it’s not always all the time that we will get bombarded, but it’s those moments that I select where I take them out, where I put them on, be in that augmented world, but the moment I take them off, it switches off and I’m back into my normal physical life.
And if we, with the whole industry, can create those kinds of magic moments, which are really powerful to people, without getting into that dystopian advertisement loaded world, I think it’s going to be fantastic. And so-

Amanda Razani: Absolutely. It’s exciting to see what the future holds with this technology.

Johannes Peeters: Absolutely. Yes. And it’s very exciting to building that-

Amanda Razani: Thank you so much for coming on our show today and sharing your insights with us.

Johannes Peeters: With pleasure. With pleasure. Thank you so much, Amanda.