LiveWorx 2020: This Time It’s Virtual
Michael Alba posted on June 09, 2020 |
Is SaaS the architecture of the new normal? Should machines read emotion? And what's an “Atlas”?
LiveWorx 2020 saw PTC’s flagship conference go virtual. Clockwise from top left: Andrea Winslow, LiveWorx host; Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC; Blake Moret, CEO of Rockwell Automation; Helen Papagiannis, AR expert; Kimberly Bryant, CEO of Black Girls Code; Kevin Wrenn, EVP Products, PTC; Jon Hirschtick, EVP, President of SaaS, PTC; Eduarda Camacho, EVP, Customer Operations, PTC; Nir Eyal, entrepreneur and author; and Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of Affectiva.
LiveWorx 2020 saw PTC’s flagship conference go virtual. Clockwise from top left: Andrea Winslow, LiveWorx host; Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC; Blake Moret, CEO of Rockwell Automation; Helen Papagiannis, AR expert; Kimberly Bryant, CEO of Black Girls Code; Kevin Wrenn, EVP Products, PTC; Jon Hirschtick, EVP, President of SaaS, PTC; Eduarda Camacho, EVP, Customer Operations, PTC; Nir Eyal, entrepreneur and author; and Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of Affectiva.

LiveWorx is PTC’s annual showcase of its partners and product offerings. The popular event usually takes place in the Boston Seaport, just minutes from PTC’s penthouse headquarters. With celebrity guests, an energetic emcee, and high production keynotes, if LiveWorx can’t get you hyped about design and manufacturing, nothing can.

This year, the opening keynote was a tad less flashy than normal:

PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann on stage at the LiveWorx 2020 virtual event.
PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann on stage at the LiveWorx 2020 virtual event.

Live many conferences this year, PTC LiveWorx 2020 was reimagined as a virtual event. PTC executives, partners, and guests delivered their presentations not from podiums in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center but from webcams in home offices.

PTC and the New Normal

The opening speaker at every LiveWorx is PTC’s charismatic President and CEO, Jim Heppelmann. While he didn’t have the usual backing of lighting, music, and esteemed on-stage partners, Heppelmann still managed to hammer on the same themes he hits every LiveWorx: IoT. AR. Cloud. Automation. Digital transformation.

This year, however, Heppelmann had the unique opportunity to frame his themes around a global crisis that has emphatically proven their value. Heppelmann structured his keynote around four skills he considers necessary for the new normal: workforce mobility and resiliency, flexible and innovative supply chains, frontline workforce connectivity and collaboration, and remote monitoring of products and factories.


Screenshot from Jim Heppelmann’s opening keynote for LiveWorx 2020.
Screenshot from Jim Heppelmann’s opening keynote for LiveWorx 2020.

With so many now forced to work from home, Heppelmann believes that cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) has proven its value for a mobile (read: stuck at home) workforce. Heppelmann pointed out that PTC’s Windchill PLM platform is leading the way in cloud PLM and has been for years. Be that as it may, the new star of PTC’s SaaS portfolio is, of course, the company it acquired last October for $470 million: Onshape.

“Frankly, our timing on the Onshape acquisition could not have been better,” Heppelmann remarked.

Former Onshape CEO and current PTC President of SaaS Jon Hirschtick expounded on Heppelmann’s vision in a keynote called “SaaS: The Architecture for the New Normal” alongside Mike Campbell, General Manager of AR for PTC. Hirschtick and Campbell extolled the benefits of SaaS: it’s collaborative, it’s accessible, it’s easier to learn, it’s immediate, it’s scalable, it’s safe, and it lowers time and cost, they said.

Jon Hirschtick, EVP, President of SaaS, PTC (left) and Mike Campbell, EVP, General Manager of AR, PTC (right) deliver their LiveWorx 2020 keynote on SaaS.
Jon Hirschtick, EVP, President of SaaS, PTC (left) and Mike Campbell, EVP, General Manager of AR, PTC (right) deliver their LiveWorx 2020 keynote on SaaS.

If anyone would know the value of SaaS, it’s Hirschtick. The former CEO of SOLIDWORKS co-founded Onshape to pursue his strong belief in the future of cloud-based SaaS. PTC bought into that belief to the tune of $470 million, and now it’s structuring all of its present and future SaaS offerings on top of Onshape’s core cloud architecture. The company is branding this SaaS platform “Atlas.” According to Heppelmann, it will carry PTC’s SaaS applications on its shoulders.

The core SaaS architecture acquired from Onshape, now called Atlas, will power all of PTC’s SaaS applications going forward. (Image courtesy of PTC.)
The core SaaS architecture acquired from Onshape, now called Atlas, will power all of PTC’s SaaS applications going forward. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

It’s clear from both Heppelmann’s and Hirschtick’s keynotes that PTC will continue investing heavily in the SaaS model. According to Hirschtick, PTC is currently working to bring generative design (introduced in the latest Creo release) and Vuforia Enterprise onto Atlas’ shoulders. If this means we’ll see generative design integrated into Onshape, then color me excited. 

Augmented Humans

Following Hirschtick’s standard Onshape spiel, Mike Campbell gave an overview of PTC’s Vuforia AR suite. He topped it off with a live demonstration of Vuforia Chalk, a real-time AR collaboration platform that he memorably described as “FaceTime on steroids.” Back when the pandemic first broke out, PTC began offering Vuforia Chalk for free as a way to help stranded workers navigate the new normal. According to Campbell, thousands of companies have embraced that offer, which stands until August 31.

For the Vuforia Chalk demo, Hirschtick pretended to have a problem with a multi-zone amp unit and Campbell pretended to walk him through it. With Hirschtick pointing his phone at the problem, Campbell could circle capacitors, add annotations, and even remotely turn on Hirschtick’s flashlight to illuminate the problem. It was a fun look at how AR can help people who are forced to be apart.

Jon Hirschtick and Mike Campbell demonstrating Vuforia Chalk, which PTC is offering for free until August 31.
Jon Hirschtick and Mike Campbell demonstrating Vuforia Chalk, which PTC is offering for free until August 31.

PTC has been pursuing AR for years, and for LiveWorx 2020 the company brought in the perfect AR hype woman: Helen Papagiannis, augmented reality expert and author of “Augmented Human: How Technology is Shaping the New Reality.” In her keynote presentation, Papagiannis explored the ways AR is being used for visualization, annotation, and storytelling across the entire human sensorium.

“The line between the virtual and physical world is blurring very quickly,” Papagiannis asserted.

She backed up that claim quite strongly with a round of “Real or AR?” in which she showed viewers images and asked us if we could identify whether they were real or virtual. Try it out for yourself:

(Images courtesy of Helen Papagiannis.)
(Images courtesy of Helen Papagiannis.)

Are those images real, or generated in augmented reality? No need for an answer key, because all four of them are AR. If you called it right, give yourself a pat on the back. If you’re sad that’s not a real burger, join the club. The AR images are from Google AR Stickers (1), Kabaq App (2), Mimic XR (3), and Met Museum (4).

Emotional AI

Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of Affectiva, during her LiveWorx 2020 keynote.
Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of Affectiva, during her LiveWorx 2020 keynote.

My favorite presentation from LiveWorx 2020 was given by Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of artificial emotional intelligence company Affectiva. Affectiva uses deep learning to analyze human facial expressions and detect emotions.

(Image courtesy of Rana el Kaliouby.)
(Image courtesy of Rana el Kaliouby.)

If that sounds creepy, well, it is kind of creepy. But el Kaliouby wants the technology to help humans interact with their devices the same way they interact with other humans. For example, it could be used to gauge how an audience is responding during a virtual keynote. The technology behind Affectiva can also help doctors quantify mental health and suicide risk, help autistic individuals learn social cues, and help in the early detection of Parkinson’s disease.

And yes, it can also be used to make advertisements more effective. By testing audience reactions to over 50,000 ads around the world, Affectiva has determined that US viewers get the most enjoyment out of pet care and baby care ads. In my home and native land of Canada, our favorite type of ad is for cereal (don’t ask me why).

(Image courtesy of Rana el Kaliouby.)
(Image courtesy of Rana el Kaliouby.)

This is where things start to feel creepy for me, but el Kaliouby revealed a clear commitment to user privacy and consent—she tells the story of Affectiva turning down a 40 million dollar contract that would have seen the technology used for lie detection.

A Virtual Success

Though I missed the salty seaside air of Boston and the chance to socialize with the usual LiveWorx crowd, I have to give PTC credit for pulling off an engaging virtual conference. Every presentation I saw was compelling and without technical hiccup—an impressive feat, as I’m sure every Teams user can readily attest.

One of the benefits of a virtual conference is that all the presentations are available online. To see any of the keynotes discussed in this article, or any of the 100+ on-demand sessions, check out liveworx.com. Make sure to check out the keynote from Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code, about how her non-profit organization has responded to COVID-19, and the keynote from author and entrepreneur Nir Eyal about how to hook users on a product.

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