Can AI improve the lives of factory workers?

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There’s a prescient scene in the iconic 1989 Michael Moore documentary Roger & Me when the factory workers at AutoWorld are welcomed to the show by the factory-line robots that may someday replace them. The message: these humans will be no match for digital technology.

Over the years, a recurring theme in this country has been the displacement of skilled workers by the twin evils of automation and offshoring.

Fast-forward to today: we see headlines that describe the enormous opportunity costs due to the paucity of skilled factory workers needed to meet consumer demand as the economy restarts after 18 months of pandemic disruption. Unemployment is high; where are the workers? And anyway, aren’t the robots in charge?

So, yes, factories still need humans, but attracting younger workers back into factories and other skilled trades workplaces is proving difficult for several reasons. There’s the persistent image problem of blue-collar work (which, incidentally, just a few decades ago, was considered a respectable and lucrative career in this country), the challenge of training them, and lastly the difficulty in describing a rewarding and fulfilling career path for them.

 

Could digital technology be the key to attracting workers back into factories?

A few years ago, as we defined the business plan for DeepHow, we visited many factories to better understand how training is so instrumental to productivity. Since the 90s, computers have been used to automate the process of training: first by delivering training material and curricula on CD-ROM, then on a corporate intranet, and eventually over the web. These digital technologies were generally focused on technical training for IT certification (hard skills) or for business training (soft skills). In other words, for the office worker. 

Nobody, it seemed to us, was paying much attention to the factory floor worker and their training needs. When you think about it, that’s a gigantic oversight! In developed countries, manufacturing represents about 15% of GDP. Add the construction sector and you’re maybe at 40%. That’s a lot of hands-on work by people with specialized trade skills—and a lot of potential training needs. 

Digital transformation and Industry 4.0 have infused technology into every step of design, manufacturing, and distribution so that factories can be more efficient and meet the needs of additive and customized manufacturing. As shopfloors become automated and reconfigured in response to these demands, skilled workers are needed to manage and maintain all this modern equipment. Yes, robots need humans!

Training new workers to learn these new skills is just one area of concern. Another social force is at work: manufacturers must also capture the skills of older workers before they retire. This corporate (even tribal) knowledge must be transferred to the incoming generation. 

As we wrote our business plan, we were convinced that a new approach was needed to capture and transfer these technical trade skills and know-how. We noticed that nobody was addressing that adequately. So we designed the workflow and developed the AI capabilities required to power that automation. Our goal was to compress the time and effort needed to convert trade skills and know-how into compelling training. We focused exclusively on video because that’s how younger workers like to learn.

And so we searched for investors to fuel our ambitions. To turn our vision into reality, we’ve been fortunate to connect with investors who saw things the same way. It’s one thing to share someone’s vision; it’s another to write a big check. Which brings me to the present, as we announce a venture capital investment of $9M from three top-notch investors.

Sierra Ventures invests in entrepreneurs and companies who are leading the way in next-generation enterprise and emerging technologies. They have a reputation for working closely with their portfolio companies—guiding them with expertise and capital to help these nascent businesses grow and deliver on their promise.

For example, they formed the Sierra Ventures CXO Advisory Board: a consortium of Global 1000 IT executives—CIOs, CTOs, CDOs, CMOs, CISOs— in financial services, healthcare, telecommunications, and technology. This is a great network of resources that can potentially open many doors for DeepHow. 

Our second investor, Qualcomm Ventures, is a corporate venture arm that we see as a strategic investor for DeepHow. They look to help entrepreneurs build revolutionary businesses that reshape the world around us—and of course, Qualcomm is very experienced in manufacturing and dealing with some of the struggles that DeepHow aims to solve. 

Last but not least, Osage Venture Partners has been investing in early-stage B2B software start-ups for the last decade, with a focus on Future of Work, Future of Education, and Future of Healthcare. Again, a perfect fit for us.

On behalf of the entire DeepHow team, I’d like to thank these investors for sharing our vision and believing in us. With their investment behind our backs, DeepHow is now equipped to double down on our enterprise sales initiatives, ramp up our efforts in the emerging SME sector, build on our existing presence in Asia, and accelerate our product innovation and investment in strategic technologies such as AI.

And we’ll need help! Just like our own customers, we’re looking for talent. Specifically in marketing, sales, and engineering. If you’re passionate about leveraging the power of technology to transform skills training and empower tomorrow’s workforce, we’d like to hear from you!     

 


 

About DeepHow
DeepHow was founded in 2018 by a team of ex-Siemens researchers and engineers who saw an unmet need to transfer knowledge in the skilled trades labor market. They developed an AI-powered, video-centric knowledge capturing and learning platform that bridges the skills gap in the manufacturing, service, and construction industries. DeepHow streamlines know-how capture using AI workflow indexing and segmentation at one-tenth the time of traditional video-editing approaches, and powers knowledge transfer with smart, how-to training videos that boost employee performance by 25%. For more information, visit www.deephow.com/.

 

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