Q&A: Neurala’s Max Versace on European expansion efforts

Neurala, which develops vision-based artificial intelligence software, has announced the launch of its European subsidiary, Neurala Europe.

Based in Italy, the subsidiary will advance the company’s efforts in the industrial space, adding on-the-ground expertise and support for European partners, value-added resellers, and manufacturing customers as companies prioritize AI and automation as part of Industry 4.0 initiatives, the company said in a statement.

Backed by Friulia S.p.A., an investment firm based in Trieste, Italy, and AddValue, an investment firm based in Milan, Italy, the new subsidiary aims to solidify Neurala’s global footprint and position the company as a catalyst for growth of industrial and manufacturing innovation outside of the U.S., the company said. Neurala is already working with global strategic partners, including IMA Group, Antares Vision, FLIR Systems and IHI Logistics and Machinery, as well as several European systems integrators.

“As the world begins to reopen, manufacturers need cost-effective solutions that can be easily deployed and can scale to meet fluctuating consumer demands that have become the norm over the last year,” said Max Versace, CEO and co-founder of Neurala. “This new venture will enable Neurala to address that need by working closely with local partners and our team on the ground to bring vision AI onto industrial machines, cameras, and production lines.”

“In many ways, this is a homecoming for me, and for Neurala,” Versace added. “I was born and raised in the Friuli region and have always had a connection to Italy. Naturally, I am thrilled to officially extend the bridge between Italy and the United States. With the launch of Neurala Europe, my hope is that we are able to marry Neurala’s AI expertise with Europe’s drive for industrial innovation.”

As part of the Neurala Europe launch, the company will hire sales, software engineering and research personnel based out of Italy, to help meet the growing demand for AI in manufacturing and visual inspections. Neurala Europe will be managed by Versace and by Daniel Glasser, Neurala’s VP of Client Operations, who will join the Board of Neurala Europe and oversee day-to-day operations.

In an exclusive with Robotics Data, Versace discussed the European expansion and trends within the vision AI space:

Robotics World: Over the past few years, has your strategy changed as you obtained new partners or customers? Or are you still taking the same approach as when the company was founded?

Versace: While our pedigree of a company founded out of the founder’s AI research is very much intact, our key turning point was the release of the beta version of what we now call Neurala VIA (Visual Inspection Automation) in 2019. In our first release of a general-purpose deep learning tool for creating and deploying a visual intelligence application, we had a broader vision of what the market and customer could be. It turned out that much of the pull came from industrial manufacturers, who wanted a powerful yet easy way to automate quality inspections with our self-service platform. Since then, we have narrowed down and focused in servicing these customers with a product that is ready out-of-the-box for the challenging use case, which also opens up a huge market opportunity for us.

RW: What did you see from customers in the way they handled the pandemic? Did this accelerate their rollouts of vision AI software for different projects?

NeuralaScan400x275Versace: The pandemic turned automation and AI technologies from being implemented “one day” to a “must-have today.” The realization was that while AI, robotics, and automation were in the past feared as technologies that would eliminate jobs, their absence in a time of crisis was in reality a job-preserving, mission-critical need. Without help, with restrictions from the pandemic, manufacturers were unable to deliver. This prompted an acceleration of this technology, which exists to augment and amplify human work rather than eliminate it.

RW: Do you anticipate different kinds of customers in Europe compared with customers in other parts of the world?

Versace: Europe has a very high density of innovative, early adopter industrial manufacturing companies that realize that injecting AI at multiple levels of their machines, production lines, and logistics infrastructure is paramount to maintain competitiveness. This innovation thrust is essential for Neurala as we want to maintain a first-mover advantage in a market that is going to explode in terms of size and importance in the next several years, when machines and cameras will transition from “passive” to “AI-powered.”

RW: Do companies understand more about the role of AI and vision AI, and how it can help compared to when you first started Neurala? Or is there still a high learning curve for companies?

Versace: There is surely much more awareness, although the fraction of cameras that can support AI capabilities today is still very small. There is still much to do in educating the customers in the new ways that AI-powered cameras can augment productivity and quality in places where traditional machine vision is unable to help. Conversely, there is also education to be done around the fact that AI is not an omnipotent technology. This comes from science-fiction movies, which are not reality. With the growing number of applications fielded every month, AI will gain more and more attention among manufacturers, and it’s here to stay.

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