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TECHNOLOGY FOCUS – Contextere

TECHNOLOGY FOCUS – Contextere

BY JOETEY ATTARIWALA

Human-Centric AI

from Contextere

  

The 4th Industrial Revolution – or Industry 4.0 as it’s known – often includes discussions on Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced neural networks. These catch words are usually bandied around without an appreciation for what the technology is or an understanding of how it can be used to advance efficiencies. Canada’s Contextere Corporation, an industrial software company, recognizes the potential benefits of these technologies and, more importantly, uses them to deliver results where it’s needed the most – by the people in the field that need timely, accurate and actionable information to carry out their tasks.

Contextere co-founders Gabe Batstone and Carl Byers recognized early on that there would be a large demographic shift in the workforce combined with a digital transformation. This has important implications for industry as it transitions from an aging workforce to a new cadre of employees. “Industry is undergoing a significant digital transformation with new types of equipment, new tools, and even new environments. That’s a huge challenge in itself, but then we are all faced with a new reality due to the pandemic. What this means is every economy, every industry and every company has been disrupted at the exact same point in time,” said Batstone. “From our perspective we recognize that the pandemic is a threat and an opportunity; if anything, I think we can all agree that it has advanced innovation. Many digitization concepts, ideas and methodologies at different stages of the innovation process have been accelerated because of the pandemic.”

Contexter’s “Blue Collar AI” focuses on the individuals that install, maintain, inspect and repair complex equipment

“BLUE COLLAR” AI

 

Contextere’s focus is on “Blue Collar AI” which is meant to harness the capabilities and power within AI and focus that technology to identify and provide useful information and guidance for the workers who put “warm hands on cold steel” – these are individuals that install, maintain, inspect and repair complex equipment.

“Our perspective is that AI can help with that problem. Our focus on AI technology isn’t on automation – there’s plenty of people in that space – but what we’re focused on is the human performance side of things,” Batstone explained. “Our focus is to make workers superhuman if you will, by providing them with the precise information they need, in context, to get their job done more effectively, efficiently and safely. Our focus from the outset was to amplify human-ingenuity, not equipment centric technology – it’s about human judgement, not simply computer decisions. We’re an AI company that has always been about people.”

One may question how an AI company is more focused on people as opposed to algorithms, but as Batstone explained, AI tries to generate knowledge based on data. “Our focus is getting that AI generated knowledge to the last tactical mile, and that’s the workers in the field who are actually doing the physical work of keeping systems and equipment functioning reliably and at peak efficiency,” said Batstone. “I’ve always wondered why people who work the hardest have some of the worst access to information. Some of that is based on stereotypes which assume those workers aren’t apt or capable of using high-tech tools, but that’s far from the truth. It’s those people that we are focused on, and it’s not coincidental that large corporations and companies are starting to recognize this and adopt our technology to grow their efficiencies.”

We exist so platforms, programs and companies can get the benefit of AI-enabled solutions without the headache, says Batstone

INSIGHT ENGINE

 

A key enabler for Contextere to deliver this capability is its Insight Engine which extracts and curates data to deliver new insights which are then coupled to advanced virtual assistants. An apt analogy to conceptualize this is to think of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa and imagine if they were built for an industrial worker. Examples of use cases are limitless as Carl Byers explains. “Just imagine if you could talk to equipment! To get there takes some work and that revolves around analysis of enterprise data, including small technical data and live sensor data, and that’s where the Insight Engine comes in. In essence, an Insight Engine combines search with AI. So, a good way to explain it is to imagine if Google was designed just for your company. We’ve solved the problem of curating massive amounts of industrial data in an automated fashion and we’ve developed the ability to deliver specific contextual insights from that data in a consumable format to increase industrial workers’ productivity.”

Contextere utilizes numerous methods to deliver actionable information to the end user; these range from simple text messaging to Augmented Reality (with Microsoft HoloLens and Realwear). “Our experience has shown that for a very high percentage of cases, workers just need a simple answer,” said Batstone. “More important than how you display the data is that you have the right data and that it’s delivered in real time. More often than not, this takes the form of reference rather than guidance and can be delivered using text or voice interaction. I would say that too many people are worried about the hardware and devices but not enough on the actual intelligence that they require. Both are important – you could have the fanciest headset in the world, but if it displays wrong or outdated information, then it doesn’t matter how good the device is. Relevant content matters.”

The methods to curate industrial data and extract insights are numerous and beyond the scope of this article, but Contextere has developed a compendium of different methods, technologies and algorithms, building on neural networks and natural language processing, that all work together in their proprietary Blue Collar AI platform. That platform generates the data environment and enables their Insight Engine to answer questions.

Contextere’s AI technology can greatly increase industrial workers’ productivity, says Byers

STRONG PARTNERSHIPS

 

Numerous companies around the globe have engaged with Contextere. One of the first companies was Lockheed Martin through its C-130J military transport aircraft program. “Lockheed has a special place with us because we were able to secure a large research and development contract with them using the maintenance of a C-130J as a use case to validate our algorithms,” explained Batstone. “A lot of the foundational work that we had to do in the early days to understand how we’d connect enterprise systems and how we would ingest and display data was done in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. We were able to validate that we could return answers that were in excess of what a human could provide. As we move forward, we’re now looking at the broad needs of Lockheed Martin and the capabilities of the Contextere Insight Engine for places where we can increase their efficiencies using virtual assistants and analytics for their end user problems.”

Serco partnered with the company in 2020 with the goal of creating an Insight Engine designed for the industrial and marine workplace. As a service-based company, Serco has a broad footprint around the globe, so their goal was to increase productivity and decrease cost across the service domains they’re engaged with. “The Canadian Navy Joint Support Ship and the In-Service Support component of maritime assets was the driving use case from a starting standpoint with Serco, but the potential goes well beyond that,” shared Batstone. “We’ve finished phase 1 of that project with Serco, and we’re now involved in another engagement which will be undertaken in 2021.”

Carrier (formerly part of United Technologies) is another company that recognizes value in Contextere’s AI enabled solutions. The focus for that collaboration revolved around the ‘connected technician’ and how to use an Insight Engine and advanced virtual assistants to support field service activities in the United States. “Our task was to provide real time intelligence to Field Service teams so they can get their jobs done as quickly as possible when they’re on site,” shared Batstone. “We then moved into the smart buildings market where the challenge was a significant amount of technical escalation for the complex equipment they were installing. Carrier’s challenge in that regard was so significant that they stood up a call center dedicated to helping installers maintain that complex equipment. We were able to apply our technology to demonstrate that we could reduce the number of technical escalations and calls to that support center by 50%.”

Today, Contextere is focused on growing their business through existing and new customers. “AI is foundational – it isn’t a market, it’s a capability – it is very complex, and so is data curation and extraction. The question for business is, how do you turn ‘AI-enabled’ into something that people can consume and apply to a program? The goal is virtual assistants that can help humans get a job done and make better decisions. The good news is, we’re experts in this field. We can provide tangible value to our customers by marrying AI to business problems to get the outcomes our customers want,” said Batstone. “We exist so platforms, programs and companies can get the benefit of AI-enabled solutions without the headache.”

 


 

Joetey Attariwala is CDR’s Senior Staff Writer

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