Phygital, a contraction of physical and digital, may sound strange. But it is increasingly becoming a reality. Through AR, VR, AI and even 360-degree video, we are increasingly incorporating the digital into our daily lives. Gradually everyone has to take it into account, whether during a game with friends or while visiting the supermarket. So we spoke to three of our start-ups about how they’re making the physical digital.

Inside the players’ tunnel

Start-up Youreka makes 360-degree experiences and videos for all kinds of companies, from Kinepolis to KAA Gent. “You might see that kind of experience on your local restaurant or grocery store’s site,” states Mats Raemen, co-founder of Youreka. “But a walk-through system like that usually doesn’t work very well. The technology is cool, but it’s not convenient.”

Nevertheless, they decided at Youreka to improve that concept, and make it less of a gimmick, and more of something that really builds value for a business. We offer a fully finished sales tool, built with our own software,” says Mats.

We are, of course, taking 360-degree images. But we also offer the software on top of it. Our solution allows you to easily integrate 360-degree experiences into your website and sales process. Initially, 360-degree photos and videos were indeed a gimmick. But thanks to all the systems we put in place, a lot of companies now do their sales almost exclusively through our platform.

Today, Youreka’s customers are mainly major sports teams, from Anderlecht to KAA Gent. “Through our platform, for example, you can virtually walk around the locker room and click on each player to get more info,” Mats explains.

You can also stand on the centre spot or look around in the players’ tunnel. And once someone is interested, they can buy a shirt of the team in a few clicks. But it goes further than that, because you can virtually explore locations, sports and event venues can more easily sell their B2B or hospitality packages . You then really see what kind of experience you will get in say the exclusive restaurant of a football club, which is an extra conviction for our customers.

Meanwhile, Youreka is about to get much bigger. “We are gradually becoming a scale-up,” says Mats. “We want to hire more employees in the coming period, and in addition we want to internationalize. We want to be the market leader in Europe, and also conquer America within a few years.”

360-degree murder scenes

Another, and perhaps unexpected start-up that puts a mixture of digital and physical into practice is Crimibox. They make party games where you have to solve a murder. But this is anything but a Cluedo copy. “We sell fictional unsolved murder cases,” pokes fun at founder Jimmy Cow√©.

We sell physical boxes, of course, containing police files, evidence and hints. But in addition, we’re making more and more digital murder cases. This will give you access to a platform where you can view all the elements. But you’ll also have to do things online. For example, you have to investigate fake websites or Facebook pages that we created. And sometimes players even have to call phone numbers. This blurs the line between reality and fiction.

So they incorporate digital elements into their physical murder mystery. And now they want to expand that with 360-degree experiences from Youreka. “We want a lot of new features, and one of them is 360-degree video,” Jimmy laughs. “This allows our players to explore a crime scene in 360-degrees and find clues to solve their murder case.”

A lot of innovative elements that completely change how we play games.

We will continue to offer the physical box.” tells Jimmy. “But a lot of players also want to play solo, which is mainly done digitally. They find it easy to play on their tablet or smartphone when they have an hour to spare. So the digital cases are mostly for the solo players, and the box you usually play with friends. But there is strong interest in both.

Meanwhile, they also want to expand outside of Belgium and the Netherlands. “We are currently doing a
Kickstarter
to make a US case,” Jimmy explains. “That one expires at the end of August. And if that crowdfunding proves successful then we’ll go to the US too. Based on that, we will determine our future.”

High-tech retailers

After all,iRetailCheck is a company that prevents shoplifting and increases retailers’ margins. That sounds anything but high-tech, but Tom Symons, the founder of the company, proves otherwise. “We sell a number of software solutions, including CaddyCheck,” he says. “And through smart cameras, we check that people don’t forget to checkout products while they’re shopping, or that they’re not smuggling anything in through the shopping cart.”

They do that through AI. It analyses live video images, autonomously recognises products in the trolley and alerts the cashier when customers have not paid for them.

Today, a supermarket loses almost 0.6% of its revenue due to products that leave unpaid through the shopping cart. So if you calculate that an average shop makes millions in turnover per year, then you can make a good business case for it. In less than a year, a supermarket gets a return from our systems.

And in that niche, iRetailCheck grew very quickly. Their systems can be found in more than 100 supermarkets and the company has already taken its first international steps. So chances are their cameras were already scanning your cart. But the potential of their technology goes far beyond just shopping cart theft. “Shopping is completely changing,” states Tom. “Self-checkout is everywhere these days, but theft at these types of checkout solutions is also increasing exponentially, so we are now reaching out to some solutions for that as well.”

The ultimate goal that retailers are pursuing with these types of systems is that you walk into a store, you take what you need and you just walk back out. Today that’s illegal, and you’ll get caught for it. But in the future, it could be perfectly normal.

Cameras like iRetailCheck’s then automatically recognize what you take from the racks and when you go outside they simply take money from your account. Today, of course, this still sounds like science fiction, especially in Belgium, but Amazon is alreadyexperimenting with such systems in the US, although on a small scale and with a maximum number of items and customers.

“An average supermarket today has 20,000 items. So that’s a whole lot of products that the software has to recognize. So this new technology will not come about overnight. But we do face a revolutionary breakthrough, and through our AI video analytics, we want to be fully prepared for that.”

Nevertheless, Tom nuances such stories. “We do move in that direction but this is not for tomorrow,” he states.