If this camera doesn't see anything, it's invisible

News | 23 Nov 2015

Easily classify digital holiday photos without having to manually view all files? This question gave Gerrit Baarda (1969), founder and owner of ZIUZ, the idea ten years ago to write a handy software tool that automatically recognizes faces and situations in photos and places them in a logical order. Today, police forces around the world use his software to track down child abuse.

By Berend Henk Huizing

His products should not only sell worldwide but be socially relevant and also the best. Baarda is only satisfied when his products have a demonstrable impact. “That is why we consciously choose to use our knowledge and expertise for organizations that fulfill an important social function. We do this by creating practical and user-friendly solutions for police and security services and companies involved in the packaging of medicines." 

business plan

Together with business partner Ed van den Brand (1959), Baarda founded ZIUZ in 2002. They soon transferred 20,000 home video tapes a year to DVDs for Kruidvat customers. ,,With our software, we extracted the interesting moments from a long video tape, so we filled DVDs with precious moments for customers.'' The police found him through TNO. “They struggled with hundreds of thousands of photos and thousands of hours of video after confiscating USB sticks, hard drives and DVDs under suspicion of child abuse. Everything had to be looked at for evidence, an impossible task. TNO had made something that worked well but was very technical and difficult to use. Then they came to me.” Baarda didn't have a business plan, but the police question sounded like music to his ears. ,,I solve a problem with this and I also contribute to making the world a better place. We just got started and a year later our product was ready for use in all Dutch police regions.” The software now works at law enforcement agencies in 49 countries.

Road to impact

In order to maintain its lead in this niche market, Baarda sets high standards for its now 50 employees, spread over offices in Gorredijk, Amsterdam and New York. ,,I like to work with curious autonomous people. The bar is high and our ambition is great. I expect my employees to check with me whether we are on the right track. That road is sometimes more important than the dot on the horizon. Ten years ago I didn't know anything about our camera and the pill machine and now look where we are!'' As the market and its customers move, Baarda asks the same of his employees. “You can't win a marathon with half your effort. Walking recreational laps is fine, but you won't win. And I want to win.” He firmly plans to be active in 60 countries in 2018 with the software that helps fight against child abuse. With his pill machine, Baarda wants to process 20 million bags a day in two years' time, and 250 of the super camera that takes just as sharp images at night as during the day must have been sold. “That is our road to impact.”

””Other manufacturers claim a zero percent margin of error, that does not exist and we demonstrate that with research””

Making the pill machine is a completely different story, but fits right into its 'road to impact'. The device packs medicines almost flawlessly so that patients can always take the correct medication. ,,In addition to the software, I also just wanted to make a product, a machine. One that you can hold with gears and gears into which you can, so to speak, inject oil.” In the village near Baarda, a pharmacist was looking for a device with which he could pack pills. “He filled pill bags by hand and made individual medicine packs. Putting the bags together makes a roll containing medicines for a whole week, which is a very clever idea.” Existing packaging machines, however, made so many mistakes that people were given the wrong or insufficient medication. ,,By taking a picture of the pills, our machine checks the contents of the bags and we have been able to reduce the margin of error to 1.3 in 1 million bags. Other manufacturers claim a zero percent margin of error, that doesn't exist and we show that with research."

Defense Technique

Image recognition is the common thread in everything ZIUZ does. The third branch of ZIUZ is therefore surveillance. When the police suspect someone of a serious crime, Baarda hangs up cameras. He collects 168 hours of video per week and then makes a summary of the highlights. “We can recognize objects, see if people are talking. If we edit all the important moments in succession, we're left with half an hour of video. That saves the police a lot of work.” But that's not all. Baarda saw that the video quality of the surveillance images was so bad that many details were lost. ,,I have developed a camera that can see at night. I wanted to make a camera that just went all the way. If you can't see anything with this camera, you can't see it. It contains defense technology, which was developed by Innovationcluster partner Photonis."

Innovation Cluster Drachten

,,I think the Innovatiecluster Drachten is a fantastic concept. All this time you think that what we do is normal, but now we find out that we are adding something. Besides, I don't have a monopoly on wisdom. The smaller companies within the Innovation Cluster can learn from the large ones how to put processes in order. And the big boys learn from the little ones how to remain flexible and agile.” New employees register automatically, so Baarda doesn't have to make any effort. But finding the right, autonomous and creative minds is something else. ,,It is really a complicated search, placing an ad does not work. We are in the middle of a professionalization phase. Production must be better, logistics must be better, and R&D must be more process-oriented. We can learn a lot from our partners in the Innovation Cluster in the field of HR and smart factory. At the same time, we are introducing a completely different way of innovating and our view of business cases is different from that of the rest.” Baarda encourages its own employees, for example, to have their CVs in order. “Do you want to get rid of me?” they respond. I tell them that they don't have to leave, but that I think it's important that they are independent of me. Then employees are stronger and they give better advice and the chance that they grow is much greater.” If things go well with the company, Baarda wants to enjoy this together with his employees. ,,I don't believe in bonuses, the salaries just have to be good. This year, our employees are allowed to divide 10 percent of the company's profit among themselves. They know very well who is taking an extra step and who is not. They can divide the money into four groups, which is quite exciting. We do not let them go completely, where necessary we support them in the distribution. I realize that with this we are asking quite a lot of people. There is an escape: they can unanimously and anonymously know whether everyone agrees. If there is only one 'no', I will divide the money myself. Our aim here is to raise awareness of the process of giving and receiving feedback. That's what it's all about if you want to be the best."