Future Tech 2025: An Interview with Russell Considine, Dotty Digital

russell-considineIn this Future Tech interview, we’re speaking with Russell Considine, Founder of Dotty Digital. Russell’s career has provided him with a wealth of knowledge and a broad range of management and technology skills. With a background in mechatronic engineering, Russell started his career programming racing cars. He then moved into the world of finance on the fast-paced trading floors of the City of London. Russell’s experience extends from a deep understanding of software development, implementation, project management and IT strategy. Recently Russell moved into the healthcare sector, disrupting the Australian podiatry market with his technology company 3D Orthotics. Russell’s latest venture, Dotty, continues on the wave of all things 3D, delivering capabilities that fundamentally changes global communication.

Shara Evans (SE): Hello. This is Shara Evans from Market Clarity, and today I’m having a conversation with Russell Considine — a serial entrepreneur in the technology world. His latest ventures look at two different aspects of the world in three dimensions. Dotty is a company that is looking at 3D visualisation, and his other firm, 3D Orthotics, is doing 3D printing in the healthcare space. In our discussion today, we are going to focus on what Russell is doing with Dotty.

Hello, Russell. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Russell Considine (RC): Shara, hello. Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.

Getting Intuitive about Data

SE: Could you tell me a little bit about Dotty? What is the background of this company, and what’s the mission? What are you trying to achieve?

RC: Sure. Well, what we are trying to do is create a method for people to interact with data in a more intuitive way. One of the big problems that many companies face, and it doesn’t matter which industry they come from — we’ve spoken to a very, very diverse group of businesses and industries — the common problem they have is their ability to share information. Collaboration is a key focal point of all businesses.

Now the underlying data is often quite valuable. It provides a lot of business insights, but it is usually hard to access, or hard to maintain. What we are doing is implementing 3D data visualisation as a user-experience layer that sits over and above the current systems.

Now the big benefit of this, of course, is that it is very intuitive. This is the iPhone model to data mining. What we are trying to do is to set up this user experience layer where anyone can access the data, manipulate the data if need to be, update it, communicate it, all the important things in getting collaboration information flowing through to other companies.

SE: Well, let’s put this in a real-world context. One of the things you showed me that I can see immediate applications for are in the realm of interactions with call centres. You might have a consumer that has an electronic device. Maybe it’s a DVD player, or it’s an iPhone, or it’s some other gadget. They’ve called a help centre somewhere, and they’re having problems. A technician is then able to show them in 3D what it is they are trying to explain.

RC: That’s exactly right. The big benefit of this is that we are performing all of these 3D visualisations through HTML5, which means this works on any web browser, whether that’s an iPhone, a tablet, or whether it’s just on someone’s PC. Anyone can access this through any modern-day browser. We’ve immediately removed all barriers to entry.

The big plus here is that, as you said, in a call centre, you can simply send out a link to the client, and they get an immediate 3D visualisation of the particular item they are talking about.

Dotty’s 3D visualisation can be used by a customer support person to show someone how to hook up their DVR

Dotty’s 3D visualisation can be used by a customer support person to show someone how to hook up their DVR

You can go back to the original analogy of “a picture tells a thousand words”. Well, a 3D image tells a million words because we’ve got another dimension.

For example, it’s quite difficult to tell someone who doesn’t have the specific product knowledge to plug in an HDMI cable, because what is the HDMI cable? Which one is the RCA? But if you can send someone a link, and immediately show them the 3D model, show them what they’re looking at, the information is conveyed in seconds, as opposed to minutes of dialogue.

There’s huge benefits for a call centre. There’s benefits in other industries even, where professionals are talking to other professionals who are experienced in their field. The ability to convey information quickly is the key, the real key, but accuracy is also extremely important.

SE: In the example you showed me earlier we are talking through a scenario where someone is saying, “My DVR doesn’t work,” and the call-centre agent would send out this 3D image of a box, and then you would get it either by e-mail or an SMS on your phone. You click on the link, and then suddenly you see this box in 3D pop up on your browser. The call centre agent can turn the box so that it’s angled correctly at you and say, “Are you seeing this green light over here in the right-hand corner?” You can look at the image, look at your box, and say yes/no. The next thing they can do is show you the cables that you should be using and the specific places that you should be plugging them in, and once again ask you, “Are you using cables that look like this, and have you plugged them in like that?”

3D Images With One Click

RC: Yes, that’s exactly right. I think that sums it up: this ability to instantly show someone what they should be looking at. The infrastructure this is built on provides bidirectional control, so you can actually control what someone sees on their screen. We’ve probably all used one of those meeting systems where you can have a live screen sharing session, but they are always a little bit clunky. You have to download a plugin. You have to enter a password or call a phone number. with our system you just Click on a link, and you have an immediate portal for a two-way and three-dimensional communication.

SE: The other thing I really liked about the demo you showed was that the the person at the other end can say, “Well, I’m having a problem here,” and they can rotate the 3D model and show the call-centre agent where they’ve got the problem.

RC: Exactly. If they look at the device and they recognise it and say, “Yes, that’s what I’m looking at,” and the call-centre agent may run through a series of steps and basically resolve the issue. The client who’s calling in can then say, “Well, actually, what I meant was over here is where I have a problem.” They can control that 3D model. They can show that call centre agent exactly what they’re looking at or what they are talking about. This can be a cue for the call centre agent to go through a different script, a different scenario, maybe a different section that they weren’t aware of because quite often the terminology is different between what the manufacturer uses, what the call centre agent uses and what the marketing guys use. A lot of this stuff can be lost in translation, but this is a good way to visualise it and then everyone’s talking about the same thing.

SE: It’s a very easy way to get people in different parts of the world in sync. Now the call centre example is actually a rather simplistic example. Some of the other applications you’ve built with this software include business-to-business transactions where you might have a really complex piece of machinery that somebody is trying to maintain. I think the example you showed was a complex assembly for an oil rig and you showed how the parts actually expand down into the different components.

SE: It’s a very easy way to get people in different parts of the world in sync. Now the call centre example is actually a rather simplistic example. Some of the other applications you’ve built with this software include business-to-business transactions where you might have a really complex piece of machinery that somebody is trying to maintain. I think the example you showed was a complex assembly for an oil rig and you showed how the parts actually expand down into the different components.

Interactive 3D Models

RC: Yes, that’s right. It’s not just an exterior skin of a 3D model. It’s a completely interactive 3D model. You can pull it apart right down to the individual nuts and bolts. You can connect that into underlying databases. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s this ability to interrogate data that already exists.

One of the big problems you find in something quite complex — say, for example, an oil rig or some other construction — is that there are a lot of pieces, and it’s quite hard to identify those. You may get a work order which specifies a certain job and a certain part, but actually, finding that part is very difficult. Then once you do find it, you have to try and figure how to order the new part.

Again, it comes back to terminology, because your company’s internal system might have a different part number to the manufacturer’s part number, which is different to the consultant, to the contractor’s. With this visualisation system sitting over the top, you can connect all those data sources together and all that information, and the common link is a visual model which everyone can immediately recognise.

SE: With the database backend, are you able to click on a part and see the different part numbers that might be applied to that part, one by the manufacturer, one for your internal company, and maybe the common trade name?

A 3D scan with Dotty can create a virtual poker game — or greatly improve collaboration on a complex engineering problem

A 3D scan with Dotty can create a virtual poker game — or greatly improve collaboration on a complex engineering problem

RC: Absolutely, yes. Not just that, you also have the ability to communicate with other people. One of the big focuses in construction, oil and gas, and other similar industries, even mining, is safety. Quite often it’s cumbersome to raise a safety alert, but it’s the highest priority for every company. You can, for example, put in some information to the Dotty system about something you think may be a safety hazard. It might not fit the codes for a safety hazard, but you can say this part has been changed out for these reasons, and then you can share a little bit of information which may alert someone further down the track and prevent them from having that problem reoccur, or injuring themselves.

SE: Let’s talk a little bit about the intellectual property that Dotty has developed as opposed to the other components that you’re using from commercial sources. The actual CAD files for, say, visualising an oil rig — you haven’t developed that yourself. You are using CAD software programs?

RC: Actually, we’re using files that come from the different departments within the company. When you’re talking to an engineering firm, they have almost everything 3D modelled, but it’s very difficult for them to share that information because there’s one department that does the modelling and they have specialist software, and then the other departments don’t necessarily see that. If they do, it’s quite often in a 2D screenshot format as opposed to an interactive model.

Call centres tend to have less 3D modelling, but we would develop the models for them and put the software in place to allow the platform to communicate.

SE: What pieces have you developed in Dotty, and what are you using from other commercial products?

RC: We’re using a translation engine to get the 3D modelling to a HTML5 format.

SE: Is that your engine?

RC: No, that’s not our engine. The rest of what we do is all Dotty based. We have basically a number of modules that we have built as demonstration pieces, and these are what we are taking to customers. We are not trying to build a single product that we can sell, what we’re saying to companies is, “Here’s a bunch of tools which we know will solve a lot of your problems. Tell us how we can solve these problems, and we’ll build a product for you.”

Dotty is about bespoke implementations, custom implementations, and really building a product that is of high importance and high value to our clients.

SE: What sort of intellectual property have you developed in Dotty?

RC: Quite a lot, actually. There’s quite a lot of code that sits behind all of our modules. A lot of that supports our ability to tie in with data sources, to share in different methods for it. We’ve built up some different forms of collaborative communication The majority of what we do is software development. We’ve got quite a stack of code sitting in our vaults.

SE: Are there any other companies that are doing this type of web-based 3D visualisation and collaboration?

RC: It’s very new. It’s based on very modern technology. It’s very much in its infancy. It has a huge potential. I think 3D search, as a concept, will become run-of-the-mill very soon. In a few years, it will be mainstream for the public.

Currently, there is no one that I’m aware of doing anything exactly like we are doing. There are certain people in certain industries that are using 3D visualisation, but it’s a very new set of technologies. There’s people out there with lots of ideas. Some will fly, and some will flop. It’s a matter of time with the whole concept of 3D search, and even image search. Visualisation of data information is a huge trend that’s really just starting.

SE: Well, image search is a really interesting one. Are you doing anything using inputs from some of the new high-definition cameras that are being built into phones and smart tablets and laptops?

3D Scanning App for Smart Phones

RC: Yes. We’ve created a 3D scanning app for smart phones with the ability to turn images from a 2D camera into 3D. That is one of the many angles that we’ve been focusing on: to capture information in 3D and enable people to use that 3D model as a source for interrogating data.

One other thing we’ve added into 3D visualisation is the ability to pin information to a model so you can take a photo. One example would be mining at a remote site. You have an engineering team based in the city. They have designed a certain piece of machinery for a mining site in the desert. The engineering manager is onsite and trying to put it all together with a team of construction engineers and other construction personnel. What he sees on the ground is completely different to what the engineering people in the office in the city are telling him. Through our system they can take a photo, then pin it to the 3D model. Then they’ve got the ability to communicate through this 2D image, which is pinned to a 3D model. It’s very much a multilayered approach to information sharing and communication.

SE: Is that almost an augmented reality: contextual layer on top of the image that somebody might be seeing?

RC: Yes, it is. It’s probably an inverse augmented reality in the sense that we’ve got this virtual 3D model, and then we are pinning real-world data to it. With the augmented reality, you’ve got a picture of the real world with augmented virtual products placed in it. We’re sort of doing the inverse of that in a convoluted kind of way.

SE: That’s funny — reverse augmented reality.

RC: Yes, it’s a new term.

SE: Yes, I love inventing new terms. What other applications are you talking to customers about, or what have you deployed?

RC: It’s quite broad. Collaborative communication is a big, big, big focus for many industries. Certain industries are very keen to use this 3D visualisation as the best method of differentiating themselves. In the case of retailers, they see it as a way to get their product in 3D on the web and then stand out from the crowd. Retail is a very competitive industry. Any competitive edge you can get will give you a few extra sales that make the difference in terms of market share. Yes, it’s really very broad.

DottyView can be give retailers the edge by providing easy to follow assembly instruction, like this one for an Ikea wine rack.

SE: Are there any particular types of products in the retail zone, because that can be anything from clothing to food?

RC: Yes, absolutely. It’s actually why, with the 3D scanning app, we’ve been talking to different retailers, and they’re using that app to augment their product onto people’s scans so you can see the product. You can scan yourself and see their particular item on you and you can actually see a little what it’s like.

We’ve also spoken to food retailers. We spoke to a company that makes pizzas. He said, “It would be great to have a 3D-model of a pizza, because 2D photos are not good enough to train my staff. Having a 3D model is better.” We never would have thought of that, but we think that it’s a great idea. It is actually as broad as clothing to food.

SE: I’m glad I picked that example. That was very much on the fly. How long has Dotty been going now, Russell?

RC: It was founded in mid 2013, so coming up to two years. It’s basically a company that started as a consulting company with software, and we’ve just been fixing problems, helping people out, and focusing on this 3D stuff. We knew that 3D was going to be a game changer for many industries. and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of problems out there and the solutions that we are implementing for those problems.

SE: It’s all about taking technology and applying it creatively to solve real-world problems.

A game changer, but not as expected

RC: Absolutely. I think that is a pretty good point — I don’t think you can clearly forecast these things too well. We all know that these things are going to be game changers, but no one ever really quite knows how until it happens. We’ve certainly experienced that. Some of the big wins that we announced in a number of industries, we never forecasted or predicted, but now that it’s been said and now that we’ve put it out there, it’s so obvious. It seems silly that we didn’t even think of it.

SE: That happens with so many technologies that I’ve looked at: the developers, when they are concocting these brilliant ideas, think that their target audience is off to the left, but really the mass-market appeal is something completely different from what they’d anticipated.

RC: Yes, absolutely. I guess, a lot of companies, too, are starting to see that. Our approach is not to build a product and try to push it on to anyone. We are going there with a whole bunch of tools and modules and building blocks and saying, “Tell us how you want the house to look like. We’ve got the bricks. How do you want your house designed?” I think even a lot of the bigger companies are moving that way. They are opening up their products. They’re making things a lot more customised, and era of personalisation.

An example of collaboration with DottyView

An example of collaboration with DottyView

SE: So what’s your market approach? This is obviously a new area, and many companies wouldn’t go out and look for a company like yours because they don’t know that something like it even exists.

RC: Yes, that is exactly right. We’re targeting companies that we know and trust and have relationships with. We’re going to them and saying, “As long as you are eager to work with us, we’ll work with you, and together we’ll come out the better for it.” We have not pushed ourselves out in the traditional marketing sense. We’ve been very much using a targeted approach.

SE: It’s very much working with the network that you have as a founder. Do you have other partners in this venture?

RC: Yes. There are a four other partners involved. Two of those come from engineering and oil and gas backgrounds. The other one is based in LA. He is very well connected across Fortune 500 companies, has worked in quite a number of businesses, and he’s going back to his trusted network of former colleagues and friends. He’s talking with them and determining how we can work with them and them work with us.

SE: What is your background, Russell? I never did ask that question earlier.

RC: My background is in software. I started out programming racing cars, and then moved into the more corporate world on the trading floors of London, implementing finance and billing systems.

SE: That’s very corporate.

RC: Yes, very corporate. The City of London, trading floors, financial software. It’s about as corporate as you can get, I think. It was a great experience. It taught me a lot about the importance of doing things not just properly but safely and really focusing on getting good results. The trading industry, especially the electricity and power industry, is very risk-averse.

SE: Yes, I was just about to mention risk management.

RC: Yes. I’ve been in the energy sector, specifically with software, for the past 10 years. Now we are still in the energy sector. I mean, we’re talking to a lot of oil and gas companies looking at how to collaborate on a 3D level, the user interaction layer that’s sits over the top of stuff. My background is very much right down to the nitty-gritty of the 1s and 0s, the code, the databases, and the information. There was always a common problem of trying to communicate the information in an intuitive way. You’ve got a risk manager that wants to see a certain report. You’ve got a trading manager that wants to know his positions. You’ve got a finance guy who’s looking at how much money is coming in next week. It’s all about information, turning data into information. That’s what we’re still doing with Dotty is just another layer above it all again.

SE: It’s really about information visualisation, but in a way that almost any human can grasp.

RC: Yes, that’s exactly right.

SE: We are not talking about Excel spreadsheets and/or graphs. We are talking about looking at an image of a gadget, whether it’s a computer, a phone, an oil pipeline.

RC: Exactly. I think this is a logical step in what’s coming. We know that augmented reality and virtual reality are on the way and Oculus Rift is getting plenty of exposure with their launch recently. It will get to the point where we can be walking around and looking at real-world objects and connecting back into a database that will give you the information you need for that product, for that part, the directions to wherever you’re going, the star ratings of that restaurant, or whatever. This whole idea of real-world information and being intuitive is where we are heading.

SE: It’s all about adding an extra contextual layer on top of what we see as reality.

RC: Absolutely.

Communicating in 3D — With Solids

SE: I’m a very big believer in that being one of the drivers over the next 10 years. What you are doing now also fits in with your interest in the 3D-printing world because with these files that you have, if there were parts missing, and you happen to have a 3D printer onsite, you will be able to react very quickly to issues in the field.

RC: That is a very good point. We’ve got a background in 3D printing. We can now use this as a method to communicate. We can get information from the field or from another department, maybe they’re in a different city, or in other offices. Then we can quickly prototype something. We can change information. We can take a photo of what it will really looks like compared to what was modelled, and communicate the information back and forth, make the iterations, and make a new model with 3D printing.

SE: Well, we’ll have to talk about 3D printing and what you’re doing in 3DO another time because that’s a separate fascinating project that you’ve got.

RC: Absolutely. I’ll look forward to it. It was great being here.

SE: Thank you, Russell.

RC: Thank you, Shara.

Note: The Dotty 3D smart phone app that Russell mentioned is not presently available, Dotty is negotiating with a global retail/consumer brand and plans to have the app available by the end of 2015.

About the author: Shara Evans is internationally acknowledged as a cutting edge technology futurist, commentator, strategy advisor, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.

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