Full Focus on Excellent Hardware for Security and Medical Vision
60+ Years of Panasonic History Provides the Foundation for the New i-PRO EMEA Business
The new company will formally start its operations from 1 October 2021 as part of the Japan-based i-PRO Co. Ltd.* and will be headquartered in Amsterdam. We had the opportunity to talk to Gerard Figols, President of i-PRO EMEA, about the new company, its portfolio and the future ahead.
GIT SECURITY: i-PRO EMEA will be built on solid ground. Can you give us some background on the heritage of the new company?
Gerard Figols: Panasonic has built up the security and IMV business over more than 60 years giving i-PRO EMEA a great basis to build upon. This legacy of great reputation for outstanding image quality, as well as product reliability will be our foundation. However separating the business from Panasonic will equally allow us to create a company that is specialised and tailored to the business fields of security and IMV and meet today‘s market needs. We are very thankful for and proud of the achievements to date, and looking forward even more to taking developments to the next level.
What has led to the decision of forming the new company i-PRO EMEA?
Gerard Figols: The establishment of i-PRO EMEA continues the approach of separating the global security and industrial medical vision businesses from Panasonic in order to be able to adapt to the current market needs of our industry at the pace required by the market, and by adding more flexibility. This direction started in 2019, when i-PRO Co. Ltd.* was founded in Japan. Since then it has been manufacturing the products, whilst maintaining the same quality management criteria as before.
In order to get the full impact and benefit of a global i-PRO strategy and network, we’ve decided the time is now right for a specialised company in Security and IMV in the European market. This will allow us to make the necessary investments to align more closely with our partners and their requirements to grow the business together.
How do you see the transition from Panasonic to i-PRO EMEA going; it’s a big step and for sure will bring challenges alongside the opportunities?
Gerard Figols: We are very pleased with the progress of the new i-PRO site in the center of Europe. Establishing i-PRO EMEA is a major step towards further growth. We will make sure that the business continues to operate smoothly throughout the transition period, without disruptions or significant changes to the supply of products or to the levels of pre – and post-sales support that customers can expect from their trusted partner. If there are changes, they will only be positive! Also, all business contacts will remain as they are. However, on top of transferring the business, people and know-how, we have also started to expand our organisation, bringing additional talent which will support us in lifting i-PRO EMEA to the next level and readying us for the future.
What benefit will your partners see working with the new i-PRO EMEA Company?
Gerard Figols: Now more than ever, we understand that time is precious and really matters. And that’s what we want to address. Based on i-PRO EMEA’s target to be a leading manufacturer, we will deliver the right products, at the right time and at the right price. In order to have the right products, we will implement a shorter development time to bring the latest technology available to the market. To have the products at the right time, we are going to reduce the production and delivery times. And last but not least, the right price: Our aim is to have our products recognised by the market as good value for money. All these three aspects form the key pillars of the i-PRO EMEA value proposition.
However, more important than what we are going to do, is how we are going to achieve our ambitions: 1. We will implement a quick delivery service with on-demand manufacturing 2. We are already proceeding with additional investments into an agile organisation to revitalize the channel business and 3. we are enhancing our overall competitiveness as a company.
So in summary, our partners will benefit from more products in less time at good value for money, with quick product availability in the EMEA region, as well as a solid and mutual partnership to grow the business together in the future.
What is first on your agenda, and the direction behind for i-PRO EMEA?
Gerard Figols: At the moment? A lot (laughs). But in general my main priority it to change mindset and market perception. Panasonic has a legacy and reputation in the market as a reliable and quality brand, however, we want to be much more than that. We want to become flexible in our thinking, bold in our endeavors and sincere in our initiatives, aiming for good value for money products in line with the i-PRO values. In order to achieve this, we can never forget our most important asset, our partners and customers. We need to get much closer to them, listen to them more deeply, under their needs, and quickly bring new solutions that fit these requirements and challenges to become their trusted partner. Together we will help create a safer and more peaceful world.
To do so, we want to implement a start-up mentality inside of an i-PRO global company. We are going to bring, and are already bringing, new people on board who will support the mindset transition, as well as making sure we can become the specialist company that our partners and the market are looking for.
Back to the existing product offering. Can you give us an overview about the actual i-PRO product portfolio and any further expansion plans?
Gerard Figols: Our aim is to lead the AI-ification of the security camera market by making AI the new Standard. This is why we have started adding our AI Engine as default into the newly launched S(tandard)-Series, our middle-range line-up that the market has already been familiar with for many years. Starting at 2MP resolution, we currently have 8 new models on sale with AI capabilities and are planning to triple the number of cameras in that range over the next 6-12 months in order to give all businesses access to the advantages of AI.
The bigger brother of our Standard line-up is the X-Series at the top end of our portfolio. It adds cameras for more specialised and niche applications operating in the most extreme environments with the largest processing capacity. The little brother is the U-Series, which still maintains all the original i-PRO quality and reliability promises, but with slightly less features and without AI capabilities to address price-sensitive installations.
So depending on each partner’s requirements, they can make their choices to fit their project needs and address the market with the appropriate solution for each specific application for any challenging surrounding. Our hardware in general is designed and built to operate and last in the most harsh and exposed conditions. It uses our unique technology such as dehumidification devices, anti-salt air corrosion protection and ClearSight coating to ensure the best crystal clear image quality and product reliability.
Overall, we position ourselves as a manufacturer with more than 60 years of industry know-how at the highest product standards combined with innovative open technology like AI, whilst respecting data security and GDPR, at good value for money. To underline our new direction and the evolution of the company, we will also begin to use i-PRO as the standalone product identity from April 1st, 2022. It will be the same quality products, only under a different name to embrace this new era and our pride in the i-PRO brand and values.
AI has become the buzzword in the security industry, and you mentioned that you have implemented an AI engine in your latest cameras. What can it truly deliver and how can users benefit in the future?
Gerard Figols: We started advancing AI technology through FacePRO, our in-house facial recognition application, which uses AI deep learning capabilities on the server side. Since July 2020, building on that knowledge, we began offering i-PRO network cameras with AI capabilities embedded directly into the camera, and then Spring this year even went one step further by including AI into our new standard middle-range line-up by default – giving every business customer access to AI and its benefits.
Edge-based analytics offer multiple benefits over server-based systems. On one hand, there are monetary benefits – a cost reduction resulting from the decreased amount of more powerful hardware required on the server side to process the data, on top of reduction in the infrastructure costs, as not all the full video stream needs to be sent for analysis, we can work solely with the metadata. On the other hand, there are also advantages of flexibility, as well as reliability. Each camera can have its own individual analytic setup and in case of any issue on the communication or server side, the camera can keep running the analysis at the edge, thereby making sure the CCTV system is still fully operational. Most importantly, both systems offer the same high level of accuracy, assuming that analytics can rely on excellent hardware providing crystal-clear image quality – a similar concept to smartphone applications, which also need strong, reliable hardware to make the solution work as a whole.
In order to bridge the gap between the vast capabilities of AI-capable cameras and the multitude of alarms they generate, we have also newly launched the Multi-AI plug-in software allowing users to easily manage the AI analytics from multiple i-PRO cameras, inside of their Video Management System, as the core of a whole AI-eco-system and part of i-PRO’s AI-ification strategy.
The overall potential of AI is huge and yet to be discovered fully, which is why our i-PRO AI-driven cameras are open systems, meaning that our software developers kit enables any developers to work on their own apps to run on the cameras. So we will focus on what our industry experience, as the hardware specialists, allows us to do best: building long-lasting, open network cameras capable of capturing the highest quality images required for the latest AI applications, and leave the innovative application specific programming to the software specialists – it’s also the same analogy here with the smartphones.
How do you feel AI is changing the security industry for the future?
Gerard Figols: The combination of artificial intelligence and the latest generation open camera technology will change people’s perception as the possibilities are limitless. Historically CCTV was meant to overlook a pre-defined space, but with the amount of surveillance growing and unfortunately also the risk of terrorism, deep-learning AI-based analytics allow us to truly access and benefit from the real potential of CCTV now-a-days; the camera acts more like a sensor, rather than a pure illustration device, that can proactively notify security staff in case of unforeseen behaviour patterns. New applications will emerge as the existing generation of cameras is updated to the new open and intelligent next generation devices, and the existing role of the security camera will also continue. In the future we’ll not just be relying on security cameras for watching and reporting, but having a much wider positive impact on our lives. They could be used to switch on and off street and building lights as people come and go, where traffic jams are predicted and vehicles are automatically rerouted, where more tills are opened just before a queue starts to form and where cameras identify our personal shopping habits and show us how we might look in the latest outfit based on our likes as we browse – applications way outside of traditional security reaching into every aspects of our life, focusing on the behaviour rather than on the individuals to protect privacy.
I believe we are about to see an explosion of AI camera applications in the same way that we experienced an explosion of smartphone applications, also as a great basis for automation and the introduction of industry 4.0 where processes are automated, monitored and controlled by AI-driven systems, and the team from i-PRO is very excited to play a leading role in this evolution.
* (Panasonic i-PRO Sensing Solutions Co. Ltd until end of March 2022)