Printing and imaging company Epson has outlined plans to return to growth in Europe, involving €50m of investment, a greater focus on inkjet printers and even new wearable products like the Moverio BT-2000 augmented reality (AR) glasses.
Rob Clark, senior vice president of Epson Europe, described how the firm is aiming to move from stable revenues of €1.5bn in the EMEA region to active growth, starting with a €50m investment over the next two years. This will create 130 jobs across four new offices in Berlin, Munich, Lisbon and Madrid.
"At a time when our competitors are cutting headcount we will be adding to ours," Clark said. An additional six percent of the firm's annual turnover will be reinvested into research and development.
Clark also detailed Epson's renewed focus on the business inkjet market, supposedly as a response to growing demand over laserjet printers.
"In the short to medium term the biggest opportunity is in office printing, and business inkjet is seen as the replacement for laser in the office," he said, citing a study which found that inkjet adoption is increasing by 13 percent per year in the enterprise space, driven by lower energy consumption and price-per-page costs as well as faster printing speeds.
Major companies like Mazda, Burger King and TGI Friday's were given as examples of firms that have switched from laserjet to inkjet printers. Epson's own inkjet printers, which include PrecisionCore printheads inspired by the firm's industrial label presses, are expected to see annual sales growth of 10 percent.
Epson will also continue to expand into wearable tech, a relatively young part of its business that launched in 2011.
Valeria Riffaud-Cangelosi, new market development manager at Epson Europe, detailed the Moverio BT-2000, an enterprise-oriented AR headset designed to offer hands-free assisted working.
In addition to the virtual heads-up display (HUD) on the glasses, the Moverio BT-2000 includes a front-facing 5MP which can stream video footage of the wearer's point of view, so that remote viewers can guide or assess the wearer's actions via a set of headphones. The user can also employ voice commands to navigate menus through a microphone.
V3 was shown in a demonstration how the headset could be used to help novices perform complex tasks. We pointed the camera at a broken projector we were tasked with disassembling, while our guide viewed the live video feed on a PC and used the software to mark which screws we needed to remove on our HUD. We could also view a schematic of the projector simply by looking at a QR code printed inside it.
Marc-Antoine Godfroid, EMEA product manager for Moverio Smart Eyewear at Epson Europe, believes that headsets such as the Moverio BT-2000 represent an efficiency-friendly evolution of existing smart devices.
"Wearables like this are really the next step, so after the tablets and the smartphone it's the most efficient way to receive information," he said.
"So we have all the 'smart' aspects of the smartphone and tablets, but we have a form factor that is more efficient because you don't have to hold a screen, so you have your hands free, and you're not drawn by the screen so you can actually forget it.
"With most of the applications, especially with an AR setup, the idea is that we just use the transparent display to overlay the minimum information you need, and keep your view as clear as possible. And this is why it's a form factor which is really more efficient than smartphones and tablets."
Godfroid envisions the glasses having applications in areas such as manufacturing and stock management, but has also found that Epson's development partners have used existing Moverio headsets in surprising ways. Examples include museums integrating the headsets into audio tours, and allowing dentists to view a 3D scan of a patient's mouth while simultaneously looking at the patient.
"What our partner did was just provide the glasses to the dentist, so instead of having to look at the monitor they can see the 3D scan in real time in the glasses. And thanks to the transparency, they can switch from watching the mouth of the patient to watching the screen, so it [saves] a lot of time. It's something we didn't really foresee, and there are many applications like that coming up every day."
Epson's wearables division, unlike its printer and projector businesses that span enterprise and consumer products, is currently focusing exclusively on the enterprise market owing to what it perceives as a lack of consumer interest - for now.
"Launching this product is, for us, a new step forward because one of the most short-term markets for this kind of product is really the business side. It's much easier for them to understand the added value compared to consumers," Godfroid added.
"And we see the backlash with Google Glass, so we have never marketed this product for consumers because we knew the market was not ready. It will come, and we are working with developers to build applications that make sense.
"This is why we are also very keen to work with museums, because it's an application which makes sense but also allows us to leverage awareness to people who will not buy the product, but are really happy to experience it in a particular setup where it makes sense. Step by step!"
The Moverio BT-2000 is available now throughout EMEA at £1,900 before local tax.
Epson president Minoru Usui admitted that there was "some scepticism" surrounding large Japanese firms following poor performances during the recent global financial crisis.
However, Usui also pointed out that Epson is recovering well, with company-wide revenues returning to the ¥1tn mark for the first time since 2008. He described how Epson had "become too focused on the competition, not the customer", and that it will reverse this attitude to concentrate more on consumer demands.
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