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AR Visionaries: An interview with Karl Hutter

Robert Combier
POSTED March 31st, 2021

Interviewer’s preface:

Prior to our WorkLink Create launch, I sat down with the fine folks on camera at Click Bond, our customer that develops innovative fastening solutions for aerospace, marine, and land transportation. You can watch the 3-minute testimonial video here, but there was so much great discussion we realized it needed its own blog. This interview doesn’t focus on Scope AR particularly, rather a deep dive into how humans learn, how creativity is harnessed and shared, and where mixed reality solutions could play a key role. So I give you Karl Hutter — the CEO and President of Click Bond, a die-hard pilot, innovator, and a brilliant, expansive thinker.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Alright. So state your name and what it is you do for Click Bond.

Karl Hutter: I’m Karl Hutter, President and CEO of Click Bond.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Awesome. And in just a few sentences, what does Click Bond produce?

Karl Hutter: What does Click Bond produce? (laughs) Click Bond produces new possibilities. Click Bond’s in the business of supporting those who design, build and maintain, I would call high performance platforms around the world. Now that’s predominantly in aerospace, but also things that swim, things that roll, and it’s not just things with wings, but that’s really where kind of our core and our history and our heart has been. And really, I think that as our company has evolved over the last 32 years, we’ve recognized something super important (I certainly have as CEO for the last five) that it’s about people.

When we think about what our ideas, our designs, and our products enable, it’s enabling people to be more creative, to be more productive, to do better work and focus the human effort on the parts that humans need to be able to do, which is being creative and solving problems.

KARL HUTTER

So, when we give tools to people that you might call our products, it really allows them to do work in new and imaginative ways and takes away constraints. And the way that we predominantly do that is by eliminating the need to drill holes in perfectly good materials, and instead, use that intersection between adhesives and mechanical fastening to allow new possibilities by assembling aircraft and other platforms in new ways.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Awesome. Things with wings.

Karl Hutter: Things with wings, but not just. [laughter]

Scope AR (Interviewer): In your view, how has technology transformed knowledge in your company in the last 30 years?

Karl Hutter: So there’s two phases to how technology has transformed knowledge and its deployment over that period of time. Internally, we’ve had tremendous focus on how we really tap the experience, the creativity, the passion of every Click Bonder. We’ve used technology as the sort of enabling tool to bring people closer together — to be able to get more people’s ideas on the page as it were. It has stimulated better processes, new product ideas, creative application ideas that we then can take outside and use our technology to transform. Again, the way that other people do their work at our, say prime contractor customers or sub-contractors, and in turn, then those folks really can enable some missions of consequences, I like to call them. So whether that’s returning to the moon, whether that’s understanding our planet better, whether it’s getting the good guys home safe or getting grandma and the presents here for Christmas. We really look at how we can take technology, again, to bring out talent and get creativity capably deployed.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Do you think knowledge has value without creativity?

Karl Hutter: Yeah, but I think it’s pretty static though. The challenge is that if you program the robot as it were to execute perfectly and capably every time, you’re going to do a good job of getting exactly the same thing for a long time to come. As I think this year has shown us the world’s a pretty dynamic place though. If we’re going to continue to, as we say at Click Bond, expand the possible, which is a key tenet of our mission, and we put ourselves there by the way, because we recognize that the world rewards taking on challenging, seemingly impossible things and proving otherwise that that’s how kind of the possibilities curve, the frontier moves forward. We need to direct our attention at that. When you are in a place where the world is changing, where the problem set is very dynamic, I think it’s really critical that you harness the creativity of people so that you can continue to evolve those solutions. Now, whether that’s to keep your company competitive, your country competitive, or simply to keep the focus on the problems of consequence in the world as it changes, I think that the creativity of human beings and the ability to really not only empower them to deploy that, but to give them the tools and the confidence to do that easily and fluidly is absolutely essential.

Scope AR (Interviewer): I totally agree. So when I think about technologies around knowledge, the most obvious one is like going from paper to the Internet. Do you remember what that was like here?

Karl Hutter: Yeah. Well, I am from the right bandwidth of experience to have typed the term paper on Microsoft Word or Word Perfect, but even Word Star. So all of my experience in knowledge, capture and deployment in school was on a computer for the deploy part, but it was almost all in the library on paper, microfiche on the capture side of things. And of course it’s a completely different world now, and the ability to absorb information in more efficient ways is a huge unlock to the acceleration we’ve seen in the last couple decades. But it also has, I think met the human beings in a different place, I.e., where they are, and at the same time transformed how humans need to, or prefer to take in knowledge.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Would you say there’s an analogy maybe of like, how has that experience been going from… So the microfiche to the internet and Word Perfect to now Google Drive and Google Docs?

Karl Hutter: I don’t know if I’m that advanced, but…[chuckle]

Scope AR (Interviewer): Like PDF instruction manuals, service installation instructions to augmented reality?

Karl Hutter: Yeah. So this is where we have a huge opportunity for an unlock. Today’s digital information, whether it’s the approach I fly with in the airplane, or whether it’s the instruction manual for a technical piece of equipment, by and large they all are still PDFs, in some organizational system on a drive. We cling to the familiar, especially in places where there’s a lot of process control and regulation. We cling to these outdated archetypes of how information should be presented and they’re comfy and familiar, but they’re naturally limiting.

I think the ability to access information from any dimension that is useful to you at that moment with your experience, with your preferences for learning, is really key.

So as you move from the static paper, whether it’s dusty pages and stacks of binders, or whether it’s digital versions, you move from those to something like augmented reality work instructions. You’ve gone from 2D to 3D, and you’ve gone from a script to sort of a limitless world.

What I think is super important is that there is a transition of generations in the workforce to technical people who are digital natives. And for them, you need to meet them where they are.

KARL HUTTER

The way that they now learn comes from problem solving in a very dynamic real-time space, whether that’s playing Halo or whether that’s managing complex social relationships in real-time on Periscope. It’s a different way of taking things in. What I would suggest is that when we speak from our industry of the airmen working on an F-35, or a new mechanic on the line at Boeing Seattle, that the way that they’re going to capably learn technically complex, sophisticated information is not going to be from someone growling at them to go read the binders off the big bookshelf.

It’s going to be by presenting information to them in a way to them… In a way that is inherently comfortable and familiar. When we see tools like augmented reality and other digital connected systems open the door for those new people, I would say that that’s super critical to harness the wisdom and the experience of the outgoing generation.

Scope AR (Interviewer): This point’s excellent, by the way. I think the genesis, the creation point, that’s super important.

Karl Hutter: Yeah. Well, also there’s a piece that speaks to expert capture here. There’s much said about the Apollo generation that got us to the moon the first time— that is not with us as much anymore. Did we capture what they know? We need to be doing that capture every single day. And that’s an exciting place because we can figure out through grabbing that wisdom, how can we then dynamically update and manage technical learning and processes and evolve them creatively and keep them very dynamic and at the same time, have the sort of process control for the released production version that’s necessary to keep the sort of law and order that’s required by safety-critical and mission-critical things?

Scope AR (Interviewer): Do you think that the interface itself is going to be more critical for that outgoing generation?  Do do they transplant their task and knowledge into the box? Are there things that can be done to prove that particular use case?

Karl Hutter: If I’m imagining what the perfect interface for this would be, and I would say this is really for all users, but particularly for folks who are not inherently digital savvy or don’t use a computer every day. I feel that the AR tools, as I’ve seen them now, already take you past that clumsy interface. It’s participating in a world. I think that the ideal interface for capturing that knowledge is one where you can live out the operation physically and in real time. For example… for the last 30 years or for the last 30 days, I have reached around here and into there, tried not to skin my arm on that and then gotten some help to do this, and then have somebody try to write that down, and then somebody else code it and somebody else say like this. What if we could actually just climb into the world together and do the operation on the digital twin?

Now, what if when you did that, the computer was in real time editing the process and the work instruction and remembering when you backed up and when you tried something different? I think if you could make that the interface, you could do some incredibly powerful things very quickly and get people on-ramped in a way that I think is engaging and collaborative and fun, and I don’t know. I think that’s all within reach.

Scope AR (Interviewer): It’s like knowledge transfer by participation and replication.

Karl Hutter: Yeah. I think as human beings are at our best and our most engaged and therefore most creative when we’re having fun and we’re actually working with other people. I grew up learning all about airplanes and the problems that are faced in designing and building and maintaining them by climbing around in airplanes, going on customer visits with my dad, working on the airplanes here, and really understanding it first-hand. So what was that? That’s experiential learning. That participatory learning and teaching, that sharing of information and the mutual discovery of something new, I think is enabled even in the time when it was always impractical to literally, you know, go to the plant floor and climb around in the airplane. That was always a treat.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Do you feel that Augmented Reality is going to keep growing and expanding? What technologies do you foresee will threaten that growth?

Karl Hutter: Yeah. I think in a very real way, where some people have a richer and deeper experience set with what we call immersive or 3D… Even just 3D visualizations. I think there is a long runway for what humans have yet to explore and be enabled by when it comes to immersive visual world, let’s put it that way.

I’m not worried about the obsolescence of this… that visual portal, that visual sensor is the most compelling one that our brains have provided for us, our bodies have provided for us. In flight simulation, it’s regarded as far more powerful to have wide field of vision on the… Wide field of view on the visual presentation than it is to actually have five access hydraulic motion, which one’s cheaper?

I’m just going to give you an aside here, I’ve been playing flight simulator since 1981, Microsoft Flight Simulator, CGA on an IBM PC. Joystick was like this, one little button. I’ve had a chance to expose my daughter Marley to Microsoft FS 2020 [chuckle] as running a modern rig as hard as it can, but she’s participating in that through an HTC-Vive headset. She says, “Dad, this is like… ” As she very competently grabs the yoke and flies around central Idaho, she’s like, “This is like being in the real airplane.” And the thing that is crazy is it’s the nuances. When you put on that headset and you go into the VR version of Flight Simulator, which today is increasingly gorgeous and perfect, it’s the things that to a pilot are natural that made the flight simulators of the past just useless. Where is the runway? “Oh, it should be over my left shoulder.” When you put someone in the world that they are either trying to hone or demonstrate their craft within, it all becomes very natural.

We can transport folks from whatever their physical reality is and augment them to a place where “The unseen becomes visible.” I might not be able to go climb around on the airplane. Instead, let’s bring the digital twin of the airplane or the relevant part from my need-to-know basis. I think that that ability to bring the reality to the participant and do that simultaneously all around the world is an incredibly powerful and compelling possibility. And I think what it does is perhaps to the joy of some and the consternation and worry of others is, it really makes the ability to deploy creative problem-solving talent possible from anywhere in the world.

So now, just because I didn’t grow up in Puget Sound or Wichita or Toulouse or a number of limited places, I can participate. And that means that the best minds from Central Africa to the Mongolian step now could participate in these types of creative problem solving. I think that’s a very powerful force, and that probably extends not just to the business of design and problem solving, but to manufacturing as well, so if we can solve some of the challenges of additive manufacturing, repeatably and with quality and the authentication of what was made…

I live in a business where the digital product is as important as the physical product itself. When blockchain, additive manufacturing and collaborative digital design enabled by XR, all meet, now we’re really cooking because now we’re designing, now we’re manufacturing and probably now we’re also maintaining and training again, anywhere in the world.

Click Bond is a solutions company, so we’re very concerned with not just creating a great product with great value and perfect quality, putting it in a box, sending it out, on time of course, and getting it into the customer’s hands. It’s everything that comes before that and after that. So we’re very involved in the applications engineering stage, helping the customer to understand the problem and helping us to understand the problem, coming up with a novel solution, whether it’s from the standard product set or something new, coming up with something that will really address that, and then on the back side, doing all of the necessary training and handholding to ensure success.

We all saw how Apollo 13 was solved: One transmission at a time. One experiment at a time. Playing with bits of surplus and models. Imagine what we can do when we’re on our way to Mars and things are even sportier (and help is further away) if we can truly all jump back into the engineering model together? Astronaut, engineer, mechanic, and really solve those problems. So I think that we’re just seeing the beginning of where tools like this are going to find their way.

Scope AR (interviewer): Do you feel that complexity threatens that? As in, the sort of proliferation where compared to 20 years ago we way did things has now been miniaturized, and the parts are way more specific to their use case, way more unique and optimized to its particular configuration. Does that threaten the sort of ability to acquire creative solutions?

Karl Hutter: You mentioned miniaturization and you mentioned specialization. So with regard to miniaturization, just to see that for a second, the ability of tools to allow more people to get inside the circuit, let’s say of the micro-electronics, to get inside the molecule of pharmaceutical, ride with it inside the human body, these are things that expand the ability of more people, where not just a certain small set or even potentially only a computer to “get their heads around”, and I think that in that axis, again, the power of visualization to make the unseen seen, in this case because it’s so small or maybe it’s so unfathomably large it’s so hard to comprehend, makes us a powerful tool to combat that.

When it comes to really esoteric knowledge, I think that this is even more relevant. The idea that you can step into an environment where you are learning while you do and doing while you learn is amazing. Why burden the human being with memorizing, or being able to interpret, or even taking the time to look up things that don’t require the human spirit to do, okay?

For Augmented Reality .. let’s present whatever is necessary and relevant in a very clean visual language, in a way that basically says, “Don’t go here. Go over there. Trust that. It should look like this. Does it? Yes, it does. Boom, okay, now go focus on the human problem, which is, how are we going to solve this problem, or what’s wrong in a way that really reduces the problem set and then provides you very dynamic knowledge as you go.” I think that it is a wonderful way to continue to harness the best of what makes the human necessary, even in an increasingly esoteric, or complex, or unfathomable scale in the things that we work on. Remember, our intent was to make it easier and more mistake proof to build and maintain aircraft.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Isn’t that the same way that we learn in the first place? We like some interesting thing, and we go and check it out.

Karl Hutter: Yeah, you play with it. And maybe it burns you, or it shocks you, or maybe it tastes good. Right? [chuckle] But those are deep-rooted human instincts. And the ability to reengage, or deepen people’s engagement in lifetime learning, lifelong learning is really key. And I really have a vision that isn’t necessarily specifically tied to AR, but certainly includes it. And it’s come up, particularly in the last year here at Click Bond, where we’ve recognized that there are folks who have abundant access to digital information, and there are folks who live in this information desert. And it tends to be the folks on our shop floor. They don’t sit at a workstation that tends to have a computer right now, there’s a lot of conveying information verbally, there is not the access to the dialogue that’s going on. Most folks there don’t have email accounts in that setting. And I don’t think the answer is email accounts.

What’s exciting is if you envision a portal for every Click Bond-er, and what can I get through that interface, through that screen, what will I see through the glasses? And being able to provide all the information, teach people how to interpret it, certainly, decide and understand what’s useful, but then let them go make decisions based on that information, and have access to all that they might want, and let their curiosity drive the investigation, I think, will be incredibly powerful. We’re looking forward to starting to pilot some of that, even here in the next year. And that ties together everything from work instructions in digital and immersive formats, to IoT concepts and being able to look across that floor and see which machine needs help and which one’s doing just fine, and so much more.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Yeah, well, I can tell you that as your partner (Scope AR), we’re super thrilled to see what you do. What has the partnership experience has been like for you?

Karl Hutter: Well, I have been excited about the possibilities of bringing together a lifelong interest in immersive worlds and simulation with what we actually do here at Click Bond. And it is just amazing to be at a point in my career and in our journey where the needs of our industry, the use case, if you will, overlap and intersect with the availability of the right technology, and more important than either of those two, the right partner. And Scope AR has been an amazing partner in the short time of just a year that we’ve been working together in terms of diving right in with matching that enthusiasm, that capability, and I will really say that agility. It was hard to understand where to go first, and I found myself kind of poking around and searching and following a couple of paths. I will say that there are other players out there who we spoke with, and it was hard.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Why?

Karl Hutter: There wasn’t an excitement about jumping in and getting shoulder to shoulder and playing, all right? And experimenting and together discovering the value prop, discovering the killer app. Because we didn’t know where it was, or if it was… we just needed to get going. And I think that’s what you guys at Scope AR have done so well, [You’ve] joined us in the journey, had faith in the investment and working with us, and we just together have gotten after it. And I think that even in that short time we have engaged with common customers, I think inspired some excitement there, and I really think it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of where we can take this. But the importance of having somebody who has the knowledge, has the experience, but is willing to play at the level of agility and let’s see what happens next-ed-ness’ that we do, that’s not for everybody, and it’s better to be with somebody who you really see things eye to eye with.

Scope AR (Interviewer): Thank you so much. We really appreciate that.

Karl Hutter: You bet!

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