Leading the Digital Charge

Leading the Digital Charge

by Andy Greff, CEO

The first half quarter of 2020 may have been rocky, but the PLNAR team continues to grow and expand our vision for revolutionizing virtual claims. With that, we are pleased to announce that Allan C. Robinson III has joined our Board of Directors!

Allan comes to PLNAR from Horace Mann, where he acted as EVP of Field Operations and Sales Management, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer and Chief Claim Officer. He brings robust experience, vast knowledge and fundamental thought leadership to our passionate team of experts, as well as over 30 years in claims service management helping to shape, define and modernize claims management processes. 

The team and I are excited that Allan came to PLNAR during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic—even though many aspects of the future are uncertain, our mission has never been more essential. In the past few years, many industries started shifting away from analog, in-office workflows towards digital, but COVID-19 has made those shifts top-priority and vital to everyday operations. Luckily, PLNAR had already forged a new path for the insurance industry by creating the technology, platform and processes to enable interior property virtual claims. 

We helped revolutionize virtual interior property claims by allowing claimants to use their smart phone app to take photos that generate 3D models with all measurements and context so carries can reduce claim cycles from days to minutes.

The insurance industry has seen devastating, historic events before COVID-19, like Hurricanes Hugo, Katrina and Andrew and the California wildfires to name a recent few. I’ve seen these events seriously hobble the claims process from a shortage of onsite adjusters to assess the sheer amount of damage, as well as the amount of time needed to design and accommodate safe onsite inspections.

While COVID-19 is a very different kind of event, it highlights the critical need for the insurance industry to prioritize digital transformation and innovation. Now, more than ever, the interior claims process must start virtually, from the homeowner, using their everyday devices. It has been advised that adjusters do not go onsite during the COVID-19 pandemic to inspect, due to social distancing and health concerns, and homeowners are understandably reluctant to have adjusters in their home. Even after the COVID-19 crisis is behind us–which is exceptionally hard to predict when that may be–PLNAR helps carriers stay relevant and meet changing customer demands, avoid preventable wait times and be better prepared for the unexpected.

Allan recognizes PLNAR’s ability to resolve one of the biggest industry challenges—adjuster shortages and job satisfaction. By widening the funnel of claims that can be handled virtually, quickly and largely automatically, our technology gives adjusters more time to focus on larger, more complex claims and losses and better segment the types of claims they handle. These virtual tools also allow adjusters to step in and safely take action on claims more quickly during catastrophic weather events, emergencies and pandemics. Our technology gives adjusters more autonomy and better tools to manage their time and focus, key elements to creating better outcomes for customers and a sense of meaning and purpose for employees.

I’ve seen first hand that companies that adopt our technology will lead the way in providing a distinct competitive advantage, reducing expense ratios, improving LAE, shortening cycle times and drastically increasing customer satisfaction. Thanks to PLNAR, customers can self-service their claim on their own time with the easy to use app, creating peace of mind during an otherwise difficult or traumatic time for them.

Virtual adjusting also opens the door for more partnership opportunities with various vendors including contractors, roofers, water mitigation companies and other first responders, who can capture measurements and damages when first on site. Whether the images are captured by a customer or a vendor, the opportunity to use simple smartphone photos to improve the quality and accuracy of estimating via the PLNAR SNAP app, measurement tools, 3-D modeling and other tools is the key to providing a total virtual solution for the customer, adjuster and claim organization.

Allan coming on board the PLNAR team ushers in a new era in our journey and solidifies the essential path we have been on for years to bring virtual adjusting to all interior property claims and the insurance industry as a whole. I look forward to working with him and the other members of our Board of Directors to strengthen our mission and grow our footprint in P&C claims and offer a vital solution to the many issues insurance companies are facing in the COVID-19 era and into the new normal of virtual claims.

Changing Consumer Technology

Changing Consumer Technology

The capabilities of consumer technology have changed rapidly, opening up opportunities for new advances in simple-to-use AR technology. Putting the power of AR and AI in the hands of everyday consumers can have a huge impact on how we navigate both daily life and unusual events. In part 2 of our interview with plnar CTO Dan Jovanovic, we discuss how he stays inspired to innovate plnar’s platform and where he sees technological advances intersecting with his vision for the company’s future.

When I’m faced with an innovation challenge, I usually start with some kind of concept: what would be really useful? What would be really mind-blowingly cool to do? What would solve a headache for someone? Then I enter into cycles where spend a lot of time thinking on it, and then backing away from the problem completely to be able to re-approach it fresh. At some point, it clicks—I see how to get there and start doing all the tactical work to prove out the idea and eventually, make it happen.

For me to be able to do this well, I have to keep my head free and clear and stay deeply immersed in industry trends. I’ve always been proud of the fact that plnar has been at the edge of industry and consumer trends, and to keep that going I have to stay really focused.

The long-term success of the company is really important to me, because I think our technology truly makes a difference in people’s lives.

Our success as a company will mean more simplicity, success and ease for consumers who are usually dealing with an unfortunate event in their lives, like damage to their property.

For example, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, we saw our plnar Pro app top the Apple app charts for two weeks. I think about where we were then and where we are now, and how important a platform like plnar is when we are dealing with massive, widespread damage to such a big, bustling city like Houston. Giving consumers the power and peace of mind to deal with their insurance during a truly horrible time and not have to wait for days, weeks, maybe even months for an adjuster to come out is great.

Even in high school, I wanted to be an entrepreneur and make society just a little bit better off. I am happy that I get to do something today that would make my younger self proud.

The idea for SmartPix is really what drove the development of the whole company. The original idea behind PLNAR as a company was: what kind of business could you create if you could generate measurable pictures with commodity mobile hardware?  If these “smart” pictures (SmartPix) could embed measurements, then have those measurements shared and redone as needed, you could really make an impact in a number of verticals including insurance, home improvement, machining, etc.

What we found early on was that mobile hardware wasn’t quite ready to execute this vision at the time of our founding. As such, we explored tangential technologies for the first few years but eventually, when the hardware and software APIs were ready, we dialed everything in and SmartPix was ready for prime-time. The SmartPix concept is simple: take pictures with your smartphone, enable them to be measurable with no additional accessories, and deploy them into markets where they can have the most benefit for the most people. It took us a few years to get here but here we are. Finally!

What we needed was simplicity in our flow and to present users with a UX they are already familiar with. Think about it.  What most people know how to do with smartphones out of the box are things like browse, take pictures, send texts/emails, listen to music, etc. I think of these abstractly as “lizard brain” constructs. Eventually people begin accumulating custom apps with increasingly complex UX flows that require repetition and learning to be able to use effectively, in other words “wizard brain” constructs.

Our original app incarnation, PLNAR Pro, falls very much into the latter category. We found that motivated professionals could learn how to use our app in about 15-30min but that one-time users, and especially those in the middle of natural catastrophes, simply weren’t ready for this amount of up-front effort. What we needed was something in the former category with UX that people would latch onto intuitively and complete a flow with minimal effort. This is where SmartPix really makes a difference.

To the user, they are just taking pictures but SmartPix bundles in data behind the scenes which allows entire interiors spaces to be created from the accumulated data in our back-end.

This means that users don’t have to wait for an insurance adjuster or repair person to come to their house. Instead, an accurate 3D model of their space is sent to the adjuster (or whoever needs it) with the capability to measure and create an estimate with over 10x reduction in cycle time.

The insurance industry has already experienced such an impact in the automotive space with simple photo apps producing significant improvements in claim processing time and customer satisfaction. The property insurance space is much more dependent on custom measurements which makes it perfectly attuned to the combination of photo-taking UX and custom measurement capability offered by SmartPix. Our early work with our insurance partners is proving this out and we are very excited about what lies ahead.

The mobile hardware space continues to be a big point of focus for us going forward. When we started out the most advanced mobile devices had 2 cores and a generally underutilized GPU. Now devices moving past 6 CPU cores with custom GPU derived hardware capable of running advanced AI algorithms. We see this trend continuing and by staying poised to take advantage of the latest performance gains, literally every year as they come out, we almost intrinsically align our roadmap with emerging industry trends. For example, when Apple released ARKit for the first time in 2017, we derived a prototype and posted a demo video within a week. It went viral on Twitter and ended up with us being the number one featured app on the App Store for two weeks.

In addition to mobile, we are also increasingly putting a lot of focus into the cloud. The app-cloud interaction is what allows us to create the leaps in space-time (e.g. creating and sending 3D interior models around the world in seconds) that delight our partners and their customers. We also see the cloud as rich terrain for deploying increasing advanced AI models to bring our data capture to the next level.

Although we are focused on insurance at present, there are also numerous opportunities to extend our tech stack into other business verticals. I’ve already mentioned home remodeling. In this space, we see having a 3D model available for every house you buy or apartment you rent as being increasingly indispensable. Every time someone would want to update their kitchen, remodel their bathroom, or preview their furniture before moving in, these our models would be ready and available. This couples perfectly with the broader trend towards interior mapping that’s increasingly gaining ground.

If you missed part 1 of Dan’s interview, check it out here.

Meeting of the Minds

Meeting of the Minds

An Interview with Dr. Dejan (Dan) Jovanovic, CTO – Part 1

Tell us about your experiences with AR and computer vision, high-performance computing, advanced electronics, applied physics, and mathematics.

How exactly have these experiences informed the vision and expertise you bring to Plnar?

Truth be told, the vision I bring for Plnar was informed just as much by luck as it was by my prior experience. I had gotten back from a 5 year expat stint in Europe and Asia when I was approached with the idea of making smartphone photographs fully measurable.

At first, the idea was to use laser accessories to provide depth and scale in photos. I did some work with semiconductor laser and photonic crystal simulation while at Los Alamos so that dovetailed with the early prototype. However, it became clear that to really make an impact in the market, we would need to ditch expensive accessories and move to a more commodity based approach.

At the time, smartphone-based augmented reality (AR) was just coming on the scene and the state-of-the-art was marker-based AR. We explored this space and discovered that we could design a custom AR  marker that would achieve both camera pose accuracy and scalability beyond what was presently available. We quickly kitted up a demo app to pitch the concept to the Austin investor community. This eventually got us into Austin’s Capital Factory, which was a great setting to incubate the idea and to develop a go-to-market strategy. The product eventually evolved into an app-cloud platform with the potential to build 3D models from smartphone pictures. This led to funding, which has all led to where we are now.

So to answer your question, it was a combination of my background, the connections I’ve made throughout my career, and a bit of luck that together produced Plnar’s technology stack as it exists today.

I understand that you’ve generated five patents – can you give us a little background on what they encompass?

The patents have built on each other over time. Much of Plnar’s early IP is built on our custom AR marker design. If you aren’t familiar, AR used to function with markers, which would leverage a specific geometric shape that devices would detect, use its reference coordinate points, and then map onto those references. We made our own custom version that worked with a still photograph, and the first couple of patents focused on that marker, its design elements, where it could be used, etc.

Another patent that we never productized used the marker to get the phone camera’s position while emitting a laser line, and creating a very cheap, easily accessible laser scanner. It’s a very cool application but never gained traction due difficulties getting the laser accessory into people’s hands. It was at this point that we re-focused on building a tech-stack that operated solely on a user’s smartphone and nothing else

The big breakthrough came in 2017 when Apple released ARKit (their proprietary AR SDK). We immediately saw its value and patented the entire AR flow for the Plnar app. This flow is what you see when using our app: you add points around the perimeter of the room, then you build the walls, then you add the ceiling, add doors and windows, create objects, etc. This flow creates a model of the space while simultaneously measuring it, which makes our app unique and powerful.

In May 2019, we were approved for a provisional patent that extends our AR patent to our ability to measure in any still photograph. This is truly getting to the core of what was originally envisioned when founding SmartPicture, because it allows virtually anyone to build a 3D model of a room just by taking photos. It feels like the rest of the smart device world is finally catching up and developing capabilities that make our original vision possible. We always knew we would get there, it was just a matter of timing.

Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Dan to learn more about where he finds inspiration for innovation and how he sees Plnar’s technology evolving in the future!

Letter from the CEO

Letter from the CEO

Since inception, our vision for plnar has been centered on the very human elements of technology, and how artificial intelligence and augmented reality can help us work smarter, better and faster. We think we are pretty good at doing that, and a lot of people seem to agree. Our original AR dimensioning app has been downloaded more than 400,000 times since its launch in 2017 and has helped users complete thousands of projects.

Two years can be eons in technology startup time, and we have never stopped learning and growing since we launched the app. We have talked to countless organizations across the insurance industry and realized there were significant challenges and gaps to implementing virtual claims that we were perfectly suited to solve. Additionally, we brought on insurance executive and industry strategist Andrew Robinson to our Board of Directors in March, and his expertise has been an invaluable asset to our deepened understanding of the insurance industry. The more we dove in, the more we realized that we could offer something powerful, unique and essential to insurance companies—the ability to completely digitize and provide the completed context of interior properties and damages – a key requirement needed to make their dreams of virtual claims a reality.

Virtual claims are vital to the continued life and growth of insurance companies, especially because so many technology disrupters have made huge gains in what was once a conservative industry dominated by legacy leaders. Customers have more choice than ever, and extreme generational differences in service options can make insurers feel like it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Not to mention, operating costs continue to skyrocket with no signs of slowing down.

This is where plnar comes in. Our research, deep learning, technology expertise and development and strong leadership have culminated in our digital desk platform for interior property claims that enables digital desk adjusting and the self-service experience that consumers expect. They say the best things in life come in threes, and our digital desk adjustment platform enables self-service claims with a digital smartphone, generates complete data sets, including interactive 3D models, and puts the desk adjuster virtually in interior spaces with digital desk tools. This three-step approach helps insurance companies digitize their adjustment processes to deliver fully virtual claims and delight customers across the board.

The “secret sauce” to our digital desk platform is SmartPix, a first-of-its-kind dimensioning and modeling technology. We have recently announced a new version of this technology that puts desk adjusters virtually in interior spaces and allows the addition of in-photo measurements and up-to-date 3D models without time-consuming, expensive, back-and-forth exchanges with field resources.  By enabling digital desk adjustment with SmartPix, plnar allows adjusters to work faster by seeing the full context of an interior without ever leaving their desk.

This renewed vision and reinvigorated focus on bringing truly virtual claims to interior properties by enabling a digital desk platform for insurance companies is a natural evolution of our mission. At plnar, we do not avoid change if all our data, insight and learning tells us that change is needed for true innovation. After all, Winston Churchill once asserted that “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

We are excited to enable virtual claims for interior properties with our digital desk platform because we know it is an essential step forward in making the insurance claims process better for insurance companies and their customers alike. Our promise to our clients (and Winston Churchill) is this—we will never stop pursuing perfection.

Sincerely,

Andy Greff