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In episode 38, John Burton – CEO, UrsaLeo tells us how 👬digital twinsđź‘­ are being used to transform Industry 4.0. from deep data in smart cities🌇 to predictive maintenance in the manufacturing environment🏭!!

Sit back, relax, tune in and be the first to discover

  •  What is an UrsaLeo Digital Twin? 00:1402:16 đź‘­
  • Why do we need Digital Twins, not just for manufacturing but say smart cities and built environments? 02:1603:22 👬
  • Why now? 03:2205:56 đź‘­
  • How complex is the process of building a Digital Twin? 05:5606:40 👬
  • Are Digital Twins going to be a big part of the manufacturing and technological future? 06:4010:19 đź‘­ Can you speak about your collaboration with Shiratech? 10:1911:39 👬
  • How will this shape industry 4.0. in terms of planning, predicting and preventing performance issues? 11:3918:44 đź‘­
  • What can we expect from yourself and UrsaLeo in the future? 18:4421:16 👬       

Follow John

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-g-burton

Find out more about UrsaLeo: https://ursaleo.com/

ABOUT THE GUESTS

John Burton is a serial entrepreneur with extensive expertise in technology and manufacturing. He is the co-founder and CEO of UrsaLeo, an enterprise software company that enables users to visualise operational data in a photorealistic 3D representation of their facility or product.

UrsaLeo has recently collaborated with Shiratech, a leader in Industry 4.0. based condition monitoring and predictive maintenance technology to offer advanced 3D digital Twin, AI and sensor technology to the manufacturing industry.

Episode Transcript

Tom White
Welcome to The IoT Podcast Show. I’m your host, Tom white. Today I am joined by John Burton. John is the Co-Founder and CEO of UrsaLeo. John, welcome to The IoT Podcast Show. Thank you so much for coming on and joining us here today.

John Burton Yeah, thanks for having me.

What is a Digital Twin? 

Tom White
You’re very welcome. John, can we just start by kicking off so our listeners can understand? What is the UrsaLeo digital twin and how did that name come about?

John Burton
So, firstly, a digital twin is a way of looking at real-time data typically in an industrial IoT setting. My Co-founder Angie Sticher from Apple when we got together, we like you know, consumer electronics got revolutionised the iPhone came along the iPad, the way we interact with, with electronics and technology and consumer side, completely passed the industrial side by we’re still using all the same interfaces we used 2025 years ago.

John Burton
So our digital twins are a way of trying to revolutionise that industrial IoT interface. The name of the city actually came about me and Angie were born a day apart. So I’m August 16, August 7. So both Leo’s and the Ursa bit came from an early business trip to Russia, where we were taken out to dinner, and on the menu was bear as in bear dumplings, as in big, large, hairy animal.

Tom White
Oh, wow. Okay.

John Burton
So I had to try it. And then we thought, well, what the hell we’ll put the name Leo in the name for bear set together and make it into a company name, which was available and reasonably short.

Tom White
That’s a fantastic story. I’m sure you’ve said it many times. It’s so interesting. Yeah. How people have actually come up with the names of their businesses. But yeah, eating bear, what was that like? I can’t imagine it’s something you’ve had before going to Russia.

John Burton 
I hadn’t had it before. And she was very worried about where they got the bears from. And when she thought there was some nice beer farm somewhere else like that. I think they just go out in the woods and shoot them. It’s a bit like bore Dump, but make them into dumplings they are kind of rich.

Tom White
Yeah. Rich, kind of gamey type meat, I would imagine. Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic. Well, yeah, thank you for sharing this. Thank you for sharing that. That’s, that’s amazing.

Tom White
So we can get into the thick of it, why, in your opinion, and obviously founding this business? Why do we need digital twins, not just for manufacturing, but say, smart cities and built environments as well, John?

John Burton
So, it really goes back to the way we consume data as human beings. You know, we’re very visual. If data is presented to us in visual interesting ways, we can make a lot more sense of it, we can absorb it, we can act on it a lot better.

John Burton
And our feeling is a digital twin is a great way of doing that. It’s a great way of showing you take a city example, zoom out and your 10,000 feet above the city and you see some high-level data. As you zoom in, you see more and more data. It’s just a much better way of portraying the sort of things you want to know about a smart city than a bunch of abstract dashboards, which is typically how it’s presented today.

Tom White
Yeah, yeah. Fantastic. And why now at all particular times?

John Burton
So we use the Unity gaming engine as the way to actually render these digital twins so that if you’ve seen them, they are pretty photorealistic. They look like a high-end computer game. Really that gaming technology, I think it’s just coming of age, in a non-gaming setting. Now, there’s been a lot of work on the CAD side.

John Burton 
So 3D models of things are very common these days in all sorts of applications. The combination of going from CAD to gaming, sort of environments has now become very automated. So what would have been incredibly difficult and expensive two years ago is now pretty straightforward and pretty inexpensive.

Tom White
Yeah. Okay. Interesting. Yeah. So I’ve heard of Unity quite a lot. So that’s synonymous with the games industry, isn’t it with, is it rendering 3D vector type stuff – am I right in saying so?

John Burton
Yeah, I mean, there’s lots of terminology around it. But basically, there are two main gaming engines Unity and Unreal. Unreal tends to be that sort of high end, you know, fortnight online, massive, massive shooter games. unities use a lot more in the mobile environment. 

Tom White
And they’ve just done a great job on giving you something it’s very easy to make something look nice, good lighting, good textures, run on anything, run on an iPhone, run on a VR headset run on an AR headset. So yeah, very ubiquitous. It’s all over the place. There are thousands of programmers familiar with it. Yeah. It’s inexpensive. You know, it’s a great way to present this data to render the 3D models we use.

Tom White
Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Blender, but the Blender Foundation, but yeah, so a good friend of mine from TomTom introduced me to Tom, the founder of Blender. And I think that’s completely open-source, isn’t it? I think Blender compared to Unreal. And I’m saying this with a slightly questionable tone because it is not my field of expertise 100% I’m kind of digging around. I don’t understand it. Is that is that right?

John Burton
Yeah, Blender is another 3D tool. I saw a nice demo the other day where somebody took in data from Google Maps. Google Earth and they combined it with elevation data. And they actually made a 3D landscape in Blender really quickly, half an hour or something. So it’s another tool. It plugs into all of all, these things sort of work with each other. Mostly, I mean, that they’re not always 100% compatible, but they’re getting there. So on the CAD side, you’ve got guys like Autodesk, you’ve got open source tools you’ve got on the gaming side, you got Unity, Unreal, and it’s getting pretty easy to go from one to the other.

How complex is the process of building a Digital Twin? 

Tom White
And so how complex is this John? You know, in actually building a digital twin, what are we looking at here.

John Burton 
So the models themselves are fairly straightforward. As long as we have CAD, if we don’t have CAD to gets a bit more complex, you have to do you know, scans, LIDAR scans, or something where then combining with real-time sensor data.

Tom White
So there’s a small amount of complexity there, where we hook up the back ends. So our back end is, you know, connected to an AWS or in a Zoo, or a Siemens, or whatever it is, yeah. And then there’s usually a bit more complexity around hooking in things like asset databases. So these projects tend to be you know, they tend to be hundreds of 1000s of dollars, not $5,000. So you know, mid-size, industrial and up. The guys who tend to take advantage of it.

Will Digital Twins play a big part in the future for manufacturing? 

Tom White
Yeah. Fantastic. And in terms of digital twins, do you think it’s gonna be a big part of manufacturing and the technological future that we see? Because there are a few instances of digital twins. So just to add to that, so everyone knows about the port of Rotterdam, for instance, certainly here in Europe as one of the prime examples of digital twin over here. But moving forward, do you think this is going to become more commonplace?

John Burton
Yeah, I think it will, I think there’s a massive problem in Industrial IoT in general, which is, companies spend very large sums of money implementing systems. And I don’t think the majority of those systems get utilised to their full degree. And a big part of that is the user interface and the ease of use. I read it, Cisco put out some statistics that 74% of IoT, Industrial IoT projects don’t deliver an ROI or expected ROI.

Tom White
And a big part of that is you’re trying to bring in complete process change, you’re trying to get people to use a completely new IoT way of doing things. You’ve got to make that really, really simple. I mean, if you remember, the first time you picked up a smartphone or an iPhone, I could go back to that example. But I’ve never read a manual on how to use an iPhone, I don’t think anybody does, you know, you pick it up, it’s obvious, you use it. That’s what we’re trying to achieve through digital twin technology, as you know, somebody in industrial session, it’s just they just use it, they have to be trained and have to, you know, be forced into doing it becomes something that’s just obvious and at their fingertips. And if we can achieve that, and I think they will have a very big place to play.

Tom White
But I mean, that’s the hope and dream, isn’t it? I mean, you look at programming languages, you know, it’s been widely spoken about for the last decade or so that eventually, these high-level languages, people will just be able to type, you know, their native language programme and get a computer to churn stuff out without necessarily needing to know about compilers and runtime errors, etc. And, you know, hopefully, if we can get to that point, it will be amazing for everyone, I suppose.

John Burton 

Yeah, that particular goal has been floating around as long as I’ve been involved in technology. So I don’t know how much closer we are to it than we ever were. But there’s a lot that can be done with a good user interface. And I think one of the issues what we saw when we got into this, you know, we are ex apple and gaming guys, effectively, you know, most of the people doing industrial IoT stuff are kind of hardware guys like Siemens, who then did develop to develop the software product. We’re not, you know, we just think it could be done better. We think the aesthetic of how to make an interface to these things can be much improved.

What are the capabilities for Digital Twins? 

Tom White
So what’s the sort of litmus test for this? Because I suppose it’s the intuitive UI, right? I often think you know, can my parents use it? You know, my dad, 75 years old, can he pick up this device? Can he look at this and actually navigate it without necessarily needing that instruction book, which, as you just mentioned, when using an iPhone, is is that the sort of test that you might do?

John Burton 
Pretty much is the test we’re doing. Yeah. So we’re starting to roll this out now. We’ve got you know, users in the oil and gas industry. We’ve got users in the construction Industry. These are not natural technologists, you know, they don’t get up in the morning and start programming Python.

John Burton 
And if we can give maintenance people out in the oil and gas field. If we can give them something that they are comfortable using and will use then that’s great. That’s a great baseline. I think if we can achieve that, then we’ve achieved a lot of what we wanted to do. And I think we are doing that.

Tom White
Yeah, fantastic. You know, it sounds amazing. You’ve collaborated with Israeli business is ShiraTech. Because Am I pronouncing that correctly? Can you talk a little bit about that, how that came about and what you’re doing with those guys?

John Burton 
Yeah. So we have a collaboration with a few different people. We were pretty much focused on visualisations. You know, how do you consume data? How do you see data? How do you use data? There are other pieces of IoT systems, obviously, SiraTech specifically does a nice retrofit box. So right, you know, most industrial equipment out there is you know, 10,15,20 years old, it doesn’t have sensors, it doesn’t have connectivity.

John Burton
If you want to bring it into an industrial IoT environment, then you’re going to need something like a ShiraTech box to give you some of those sensor readings that allow you to do stuff with them. The reason it came about actually a good friend of mine new ShiraTech, they were basically a European company, they got involved with Arrow and Siemens. Arrow, I think funded them. And a guy I know here in the Bay Area knew them very well and introduced me.

Tom White
Okay, fantastic. Yeah, I noticed some of the guys that are quite well. Done a bit of work with them in the bay as well. Aiden Mitchell, people like that.

John Burton
I’m not that familiar, but I know, people who know people there definitely.

Tom White
Yeah, yeah. Fantastic. And in terms of, you know, what you’re producing the involvement of ShiraTech, obviously, with that additional add on that box sounds great, obviously require that otherwise, you’re not going to get the information.

How is the collaboration going to shape the industrial landscape? 

Tom White
How is this going to continue to shape the industrial landscape for IoT? And again, for the wider view of our listeners who may not know it from a firsthand point of view, in terms of planning, predicting, and preventing performance issues?

John Burton

So I mean, I apologise but I’ve got a little bit of a sort of analogy I use when we get into where we’re industrial IoT is today and where I think it’s going.

John Burton
So go back in time to when I was in my first job, mainframe computers were the thing everyone used. You know, I remember going into a company, my first company was Philips, and they had a great big IBM mainframe system. Back in the time, you know, you got everything from IBM, you bought the prints from IBM storage from IBM, the software from IBM, a huge maintenance contract with IBM. And I kind of feel that’s where IoT, industrial IoT is a big part today, you can get everything you need from Siemens.

John Burton 
It just is may not be the most flexible and best way of doing things. But it’s a one-stop shop. Our partnership with guys like ShiraTech, and Aliantia and a few other people allow somebody now to build an industrial IoT system that’s going to be much cheaper, much more flexible. I think it’s going to perform better. But you’re going to need multiple vendors. And it’s kind of what happens in the computer industry, you went away from buying everything to IBM. And now you started buying Dell servers and HP printers and Microsoft software or you know, Linux.

John Burton

So you started bolting together all these different pieces. And I think we all agree that you know, the price has dropped dramatically, systems became much more flexible. I think some of the same things happening in industrial IoT. I think this idea of a huge homogenous industrial guy coming in and give you everything you need. As compelling as that can be from a single point of contact. You can build the same thing out of component pieces now for 10% of the cost and get a more flexible, better solution.

What were the main challenges you encountered when setting up your business? 

Tom White
Yeah, yeah. Fantastic. And in terms of your business, how you started, what were the main challenges Would you say that you’ve had in really getting UrsaLeo off the ground and things that perhaps you didn’t envision when you started out the company?

John Burton 
So startups are always tough. I’ve done this is my fourth. You know, it doesn’t matter how many times you do them. That should be easy for them, right? Yeah,

John Burton 
We were in the Bay Area, we’re doing kind of industrial stuff. So get getting investors was a little tricky at the beginning because we weren’t building a new social media platform. We were doing something that was much more, you know, that plays much more in the Midwest in America than it does in on the coasts.

John Burton
So just sort of convincing people that you know, this was something that was a viable business here that we could do it. That was probably the biggest challenge. I mean, you know, the team we had, luckily, I knew Angie really well, she just got out of Apple. She’s been at Apple for 10 years. So I knew, her capabilities were going to be very, very strong. Then we were able to build a really, really good team again, gaming guys, for them for the front end stuff and some cloud guys for the back end stuff. You know, it takes a while to convince anybody to do something new. So going into industrial companies and saying, hey, there’s a better way to consume your data. It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s picking up pretty good momentum now.

Tom White
Yeah, that’s a really interesting point you just touched on there actually, John, I think, you know, being around the Bay Area, we’ve got a presence down at Santa Clara actually. One of the main things that we see is, it’s not social media, it’s not an app, it’s not something cool and sexy. And, you know, its videos and overlays and bits and pieces. Was that a challenge in getting that investment on early days, and with the likes of Angie and her pedigree from Apple, and of course, yours, right, and a fourth startup, did this counter, weigh that in from investment circles, I’m curious on that?

John Burton
So obviously, the way most startups get funded is, you fund it yourself, which me and Angie did for a good long period of time. Then you typically bring in friends and family and people who know you, that was fairly easy because I did have a pretty good track record. So the first million bucks or so, it really came from my network and from Angie’s network. Getting institutional money is always a challenge. And I’d love to say that, you know, the VCs make investments based on very analytical decisions. They actually don’t, they typically make investments based on hearsay, and people making recommendations and emotion.

John Burton 
So there’s always a slight challenge of, you know, just establishing that VC network and getting out there getting that that sort of first tranche with institutional money. So we actually did that with a couple of angel groups here in the Bay initially, and we’re just about to hopefully close around with a full blown VC, which will be our first sort of, you know, well, I guess we’ve had institutional money. This will be our first big institutional check. Yeah, it’s, it’s not everyone tells you raising money is easy. They’re lying. You know, unless you get really lucky and you happen to hit blockchain, just as blockchain became the big thing, or you happen to hit artificial intelligence, just as that became the big thing, then every VC is desperate to make an investment in that space. But you have to catch that way otherwise, it’s a grind, you got to show traction, you got to show you know what you’re doing. You got to show customers want to buy it. It’s not it’s not simple. Yeah even in the Bay Area.

Tom White
Now I can imagine and people buy into this hype, you know, this emotion. And I guess that’s what separates us as humans, right? You know, it’s like going to an auction, you could say, right, I’ve got this limit, and you’re there and the blood starts pumping. And before, you know, you’ve gone over your level, which is in the same way that some of these VCs might be investing in businesses good. It’s a talking to town, right.

John Burton 
And if you think of their job, I mean, they, you know, they see, they probably get at least 1000 applications a month or, you know, decent sized VC firm. You know, they probably meet with 50 people a month, and they probably make one investment a month. So, you know, they’re having to absorb huge amounts of information and decide to make decisions and filter it. Yeah, they make a decision on whether they’re going to move forward with somebody within 10 to 15 minutes maximum, probably actually within two minutes. You know, so it’s tricky, they don’t have time to massively analyse things, they have to make decisions really quick. Otherwise, it wouldn’t get through the volume of deals.

Tom White
Yeah, yeah, completely. And it stands to reason, doesn’t it? You know, you make it, you make a judgement, although we shouldn’t. And everyone tells us that we shouldn’t. Within the first 10 seconds of seeing someone, you know, and if someone’s someone’s coming up and asking for money, it’s you know, how they’re presented, how they articulate themselves, do they have energy? Are they really passionate about what they’re doing? So that’s curious to hear.

What can we expect from UrsaLeo in the future? 

Tom White 
Yeah. So what can we see from you in the future? John, what’s going to happen? You know, where are you right now? You’re 20 people as well. Is that right? 20 people around?

John Burton
I think we’re about 17. At the moment, okay. Yeah, but we’re hiring real fast. So if the number goes up, three or four ranks at the moment, I think the next big thing is augmented reality, I think, for us that as you get into applications around remote maintenance, where you’re trying to support someone who’s doing maintenance, I’m an expert, you’re 400 miles away, you know, working on my piece of machinery, and I’m guiding you.

John Burton
I think augmented reality, we’re in the process of implementing that right now. That’s going to be I think augmented reality is really coming of age at the moment, with things like the Microsoft HoloLens coming out. It’s, you know, a lot of that stuff, again, the frameworks are there, it’s all you know, that it’s all sort of coming of age, and I think really, really interesting things can be done with that.

John Burton
So definitely augmented reality, you know, integration with lots more, you know, we already integrated with Amazon, we’re already integrated with Azure. We’re going to have to do integrations with SAP integrations with Oracle for the maintenance side of things. So lots of work to be done there. But I think for the cool side of things, augmented reality is gonna be the coolest thing we show off in the next three months.

Tom White
Yeah, yeah. Fantastic. Yeah. Well, John, look, you know, thank you so much for coming onto the show and tell us about the business. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here and listening in a little bit about the investment piece as well. That’s really curious for me to understand. Everyone has a slightly different view and a slightly different take on it. But I really appreciate your honest, you know, kind of warts and all view on that you kind of didn’t beat around the bush and said how it is. And that’s refreshing sometimes. Where can all the guys find you on social media? I assume you’re online on LinkedIn, various other places?

John Burton
Yeah. So my personal account on LinkedIn is where I spend all my time on social media I never use anything else. So John Burton, UrsaLeo, you can just do a quick search, find me on LinkedIn. Yeah, the company obviously has a LinkedIn Twitter presence. UrsaLeo, or UrsaLeo, IoT, I think of the handles, you can find us on there. But it should be able to find this pretty quickly. And then if you want to test-drive models, just come to our website, and there’s a reform you can say, hey, I’d like to try out a digital twin and we’re very happy to send people out access code, so they can come in and download a model, fly through a factory or fly through oil and gas facility.

Tom White
Yeah. Fantastic. That’s great. John, thank you for coming onto the show. And, guys, if you’d like to sign up to our newsletter, the link should be in the comments below. Do come and tell us what your thoughts are on industry 4.0 and the whole digital twin movement as we’ve listened here today from John, I’ll be curious to see it.

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