Radio Cade

Quick 3D Color Maps of Real-World Environments

March 06, 2019 Amir Rubin Season 1 Episode 26
Radio Cade
Quick 3D Color Maps of Real-World Environments
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Radio Cade
Quick 3D Color Maps of Real-World Environments
Mar 06, 2019 Season 1 Episode 26
Amir Rubin

Amir Rubin is the co-founder of Paracosm, a company that developed a handheld device that creates 3D color maps of real-world environments. “We’ve turned reality,” says Amir, “into a video game.” Amir is a second-generation entrepreneur. Both his parents are PhD’s, but his father quit academia to start a hardware store, and later a bakery. Amir wonders if any entrepreneur would make it without some level of “blind enthusiasm.” 

Show Notes Transcript

Amir Rubin is the co-founder of Paracosm, a company that developed a handheld device that creates 3D color maps of real-world environments. “We’ve turned reality,” says Amir, “into a video game.” Amir is a second-generation entrepreneur. Both his parents are PhD’s, but his father quit academia to start a hardware store, and later a bakery. Amir wonders if any entrepreneur would make it without some level of “blind enthusiasm.” 

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade, a podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors in the things that motivate them. We'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

A three-dimensional world that used to be something only for science fiction and now it's an everyday part of reality and we're pleased to have here on our show this morning Amir Rubin, founder of a company called Paracosm, which deals very much in the 3D world and other inventions. Welcome to the show Amir.

Amir Rubin:

Hey, thanks for having me, Richard.

Richard Miles:

So, Amir, I always like to start out with the inventor themselves explaining what the invention is, the core technology at least behind it, what it does in very simple terms, and then we'll come back and talk later on about sort of how you develop that. So what did you invent Amir ? And what does it do?

Amir Rubin:

So, I co-founded a company in 2013, Paracosm, that has invented the world's first handheld color lidar mapping system and a lot of fancy words there. But basically it's a device that, the product is called the PX80. And it's a device that you can hold, has a little handle, and you just go for a walk and in whatever environment you want indoor, outdoor, and when you're done, we spit out a 3D replica, like a digital twin of the real world environment in full color. So it's like we've, you know, one way I describe it is maybe you could think of it as we've turned a reality into a video game level.

Richard Miles:

Okay. So, I've seen the product, the application before, and I've said it's very impressive. I think one thing that struck me was the speed at which you can do it because the technology has existed I think for a w hile. A nd you can do 3D mapping, but your invention enables you and this i s as of several years ago a nd I know you've improved it to do it very quickly and pretty, very accurate to a degree that's useful to a lot of t hings.

Amir Rubin:

Yeah, exactly. So there's been 3D scanning technologies that had been really good since, you know, the eighties and nineties, and they've been scanning for oil fields and oil rigs and other industrial applications and the way old or traditional scanners work is there like laser scanners that are mounted on the old, surveyors , tripods. You might have seen them when you drive by a construction site by the side of the road, you might see a crew with a survey, tripod doing surveys. So that's a pretty similar to how 3D scanning is, has been done and is currently done. And our big Aha moment is what happens if we ditched the tripod and let people just go for a walk. And it lets you capture data really fast that's never been possible before and lets people go into capturing new types of environments. Like we have customers, for example in Japan who mount our little 3D mapping pod onto a backpack and they go hiking through the mountainous forest of Japan and they're able to 3D map in full color, the mountainous terrain and forest that covers 70% of Japan.

Richard Miles:

So we're going to come back a little bit later and talk about the company you founded Paracosm and what that was like but first I want to talk somewhat about your background. You have a very interesting background Amir just the little bit that I know about you is very interesting. You've been associated in town in Gainesville with a number of companies who are well known, Shadow Health, Prioria Robotics. You also have a patent for 3D cameras to weigh cows, which I wager is one of a kind. But let's go back before even, and your a graduate from the University of Florida computer engineering. But let's go back before that. Tell me where, where you're from, what were your sort of early influences as a child, maybe what your parents did for a living and that sort of stuff?

Amir Rubin:

Yeah, I would say that that all had an influence on me. Both my parents are PhDs. Um, and you know, it's kinda funny. My Dad was a scientist, he was a PhD in Biology, but he quit before I was born and decided to start his own business. So, I've always kind of been used to seeing my dad own his own small businesses and he ran a hardware store when I was a kid and then started a bakery when I was in middle and high school. So kind of a funny combination of science.

Richard Miles:

So here in Gainesville?

Amir Rubin:

In a south Florida. And then my mother is a PhD in Education, PhD and as a teacher. So probably where some of the nerdiness came from I think.

Richard Miles:

Were you a good student in school and starting out?

Amir Rubin:

I was, I was like one of these annoying students, I never did my homework and I never studied for class,

Richard Miles:

But you ended up doing well.

Amir Rubin:

Yeah. Math and science. I never needed to study for the test. When I would take a test or do a report, the answer would just pop into my head. So I never really had to work too hard at it, which always drove people crazy.

Richard Miles:

So, did your teachers find this endearing or frustrating and did your parents, were they thrilled by this ability for you to pull it out at the last minute?

Amir Rubin:

I think it frustrates everybody. Yeah, I remember I even for math and science teachers, they're cool with the English teachers hate it because I would, I got like the highest score on the the IB AP exam without ever actually reading any of the books.

Richard Miles:

And your fellow students I'm sure were probably,

Amir Rubin:

Well they were, they were super smart too.

Richard Miles:

So in terms of science and math, I mean it sounds like you were always had an ability to do it. What were sort of the first, I guess, was it a class or you know, I know there are some people that their introduction to science or coding was, you know, a computer game for instance. Is there any sort of epiphany that you had in terms of that you think led you into the field you are now?

Amir Rubin:

Yeah. There was two or three. The first was my parents bought a computer, went out when we were, um, when I was like 10 years old. So I've always had computers in the house and it was my, I spent every day on it. You know, um, learning how to code and, you know, initially basic and you know, other learning languages from back in the 90s, like Pascal and then, you know, this was the , this was, you know, dialing in to the local, you know, bbs and , and all this fun stuff. Um, but I'd never, you know, one thing that we kind of take for granted in the Cade, it's like something that the Cade does a lot of work on is like the STEM and the STEAM, uh, you know, education and letting students know and you know, now we have first robotics and we have STEAM. So it's, it's a known thing now when if you're in like a elementary/middle of school that, uh, engineering as a career. And I never know , no one ever told me that. Like, I didn't know until I graduated. I was halfway through college that there was such a thing as engineering, let alone computer engineering. So people think it's silly. But in high school, a big moment for me with taking, um , physics 1 and that was like the most mind opening class I've ever taken that to see that the world can be partially modeled by, you know, uh, physics equations and theories and our physics teacher was like, you know, you can become a physicist. And so that I came to University of Florida as a physics major, um, because that seemed like a career path. And one day, um, I went to a career fair and, uh, like my sophomore year, and there was not a single company hiring physicists, but there's a few who are asking, who were like, hey, we're, we're, we're looking for computer engineers. And I was like, wait, that's, you can be a computer engineer? That's a thing?

Richard Miles:

What year are we talking about?

Amir Rubin:

This is, um, uh, 2000-2001. And so yeah, it was , it was kind of unheard of back then to be a programmer or a computer engineer. And then I had the fun of graduating in 2003, which, um , was the collapse of the computer engineering industry and everyone had declared that, um, you know, computer programming, computer science and engineering is done . It's done, it's dead. They'll never be an industry in this, in the U.S. it's over. And, uh, there's not a single job to be had in it. So that was fun times too.

Richard Miles:

So you're one of those rare students, uh, that before you even finish school, you'd already founded a company. So what you describe how your dad ran his own businesses. Running a business is really different than, you know, sitting in a classroom, right? And, and studying and doing assignments. What was it about, was there something about the business world that attracted you in addition to, you know, the , the content. I mean, you could've gone on and just gotten a graduate degree and a PhD, but you decided to found a company and then you, before you're even at a school and you joined another startup company, Shadow Health, and then you found it in another one. So what, what was it about that side that attracted you? The business side?

Amir Rubin:

It was, um, combination of all that. And I had stayed with my sister who lives in the bay area in California, um, the summer before I graduated and she worked at, before the dot com collapse in 99'-2000. She had worked at a, um , one of these San Francisco dot com companies. So I visited her and I was like, Hey, this is pretty, this is pretty cool. They have these cool office chairs and free snacks. And so,

Richard Miles:

It's always the snacks.

Amir Rubin:

It's always the free snacks. And, um , so when I graduated finally in 2003, by this time, you know, uh, by the time I had stayed with my sister, you know, and, and, and seeing all that, I was convinced you know by that time I had switched from physics to computer engineering major. And then when I graduate and graduated in 2003, there was just simply not, not an economy for, for programmers or , or , software engineers. And this was before the startup craze, you know, it was like Facebook probably was just started, you know, um, and no one outside of the few schools knew about them. There was no y Combinator or anything. So I thought to myself, well, I, there's no, there's no jobs here, but I've, I've seen it, seen it done before. I should probably, um, you know, start my own company with some friends. And, um, my then girlfriend now wife was, um, just, uh , accepted into UF Veterinary School. So it's like, and I need an excuse to stay in Gainesville a few more years . So I'll start, uh , computer engineering company right here in Gainesville.

Richard Miles:

So that's a, that's a fascinating story. So, um , so I was just going to add an addition to the snacks, there's always a girl involved, right?

Amir Rubin:

Oh yeah, always, yeah.

Richard Miles:

Um, okay. So, uh, so let's talk about your current company Paracosm. Um , you founded that in 2013, so now going on, uh , gosh, six years close , right? What was that like? I mean you had, you already at that point had the core idea for the 3D sort of handheld or did you? Or did you found the company first and then the idea comes , or was it the other way around?

Amir Rubin:

It was all the above. So it's always a chaotic jumble.

Richard Miles:

And , and so you obviously had to hire, I mean how many employees did you have at the beginning? Was it just you or did you?

Amir Rubin:

It was myself and four other co-founders. We started with the team of five.

Richard Miles:

And were you guys , did you have any money? I mean where?

Amir Rubin:

I just, I'd put in, um, everything I got from, uh, my first startup. Okay . You know, from, from all the money I'd saved up from my previous start up and the first company I founded out of school. So, you know, I emptied out my 401k and my savings and I maxed out my credit card and you know, just put it, put it all in.

Richard Miles:

And then your then girlfriend decided to become your then wife right?

Amir Rubin:

Basically yeah, yeah. So that makes, that's best financial decisions here.

Richard Miles:

Pretty gutsy thing, cause at that point did Paracosm have any clients or sales or nothing? Nothing. Just an idea. It's an idea. Um, all right. So you started out with, you said three co- founders or four co-founders and how many employees does Paracosm have now?

Amir Rubin:

We , we were acquired last year by a larger startup, uh , Occipital. And the Paracosm division is currently 22 employees.

Richard Miles:

And how much, are you in a manager role now or do you or are you like the chief technical officer?

Amir Rubin:

I'm , I'm the equivalent of like CTO / general manager, president of the division.

Richard Miles:

So do you, um, how much of your time do you get to spend on developing the technology or new technologies and how much time is sort of meant, uh , spent actually managing the division?

Amir Rubin:

We have a pretty good workflow, so I spend, I spend a lot of time sitting with the engineering team, but don't do the actual engineering work myself anymore and,

Richard Miles:

Do you miss that or?

Amir Rubin:

Um yeah, you know, a little, but you know, it's kind of, um, it's really hard to do both. I think. Um, you know, the, in order to do engineering work, you have to be able to have just singularly focus on the design problem or the engineering challenge you're working on. You have to be able to have, you know, four to eight hour blocks of time set aside just to work on, on your, um projects.

Richard Miles:

So not going to meetings, not messing with emails.

Amir Rubin:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so once you start having to, um, be in a role where you're communicating and pitching and selling and yeah , like I said, responding to to people, then it's really hard to do both.

Richard Miles:

So I imagine the fact that you were acquired means that, uh , you were profitable and you had clients at that point.

Amir Rubin:

We were on the verge of it, we, we, um, we are now.

Richard Miles:

I remember when we took a tour of Paracosm offices, uh , had to been at least a three or four years ago or longer. Uh , I remember at the, at that point, the type of applications you had, I remember very distinctly one was for like a military type of application, special forces. Oh , another one that's sort of like for designers, interior designers, and you listed a few other ones. What, what has developed as kind of like your number one application or number one industry, so to speak, that loves your product?

Amir Rubin:

The short answer is, uh , surveyors really have been taken taking to our product. So, you know, it's sort of like the, the, you know, the early adopters are people who are already doing lots of survey, uh , for their businesses and they see this as like a , a really like shiny new tool that they can do their jobs much, much faster now. And so that's been our early adopters as people doing land survey building survey. And you know, we're starting to expand into other use cases because early adopters just are seeing the PX80 the lidar mapping system we developed as a tool to make their jobs much easier. And that's great for getting us a good flow of early sales. But you know, we fundamentally see this technology as enabling an entirely new class of applications. So we see what we've done as a way to, to always have an up- to-date digital copy of reality so that it enables entirely new ways of thinking. So we're starting to get adoption, for example, on construction sites to be able to scan a construction site every week to precisely monitor progress and do quality control. And we're starting to get people use the PX80 to monitor like industrial facilities, factories, warehouses, you know, data centers, things like that are constantly changing and the facility manager needs to know what, what's happening in their facility . So, uh, we're, we're starting to see, you know, new classes of, um , use case that, that are pretty exciting.

Richard Miles:

So these are still mostly commercial applications right? There's, there's not a retail in game at this point?

Amir Rubin:

No, no. We started out thinking there would be some, some interesting consumer and retail or end user use cases. And for a lot of reasons it turns out that's , that's a , that's a very hard sell, right? One of the companies, I think doing a really successful job at that is actually like a , the Niantic, the makers of Pokemon Go. They have a incredibly popular App. It's a Pokemon game where you hunt Pokemon in the wild. But you know, future versions of that app will start to use the players, you know, the Pokemon trainers, a camera phone to map, uh , parts of the real world environment. And so, you know, what we kind of realized is to make a consumer play, there needs to be a primary driver, uh , to the consumer beyond 3D mapping. Uh, for example, Pokemon Go or, or fun engaging games like that. Whereas, um , in the, uh, you know, enterprise industrial world people, people need their data. So you can, you can make a business just to selling tools to get people data.

Richard Miles:

I had a guest, I think, you know, Randy Scott, local entrepreneur now in adventure capital and, uh , he said one issue he found with sort of adventures and co-founders is that one of the pieces of advice he gives them is the first thing they have to do is learn how to fall out of love with the science behind the invention. Um, and , and coldly look at what are the sort of commercial applications, commercial potential. Yeah . And he said once he could do that, then you know , adventures can really understand. Okay. Just as you said, there's ultimately there's gotta be a market or somebody wanting to use that.

Amir Rubin:

Yeah, yeah. We, we, we initially thought this, that this tech we developed would be, um , really popular with game designers and, you know, like augmented reality games and, and experiences and fun things like that. And so when we realized kind of like what, what Randy is saying, they want to realize the application is industrial. Well, we made kind of a tough decision as a team to , um , just focus full time on very unsexy, very kind of nose to the grindstone industry . You know, land survey, construction, facility management, these are not, they don't grab any headlines, but when you talk about important problems, I mean, we all live in buildings that need to be built. We all drive on roads and bridges that need to be inspected and you know, hopefully done on a budget, finished on budget and a complex facilities need to need to stay running. And so there's real need and real budgets to um, to support that. And that was a , you know, shift for us. But as soon as we made that shift, things started going our way. So the one kind of conceit we have to our old idea of like whimsical consumer games. We've kept our branding and our logo as like a fun kind of whimsical characters and the branding we , we uh, and the, uh, we, we made, um, for the old vision of the company. We brought that into our new product and our new market and it actually helps it stand out. Like I company mascot is a parakeet, you know, the Paracosm parakeet and uh, you know, people, people know what the parakeet means now the industry.

Richard Miles:

Yeah. So it sounds like you've learned a lot just in the last few years. It was something you said reminded me of uh, our , our architects that built the Cade Museum, um , did a great job and it's a fabulous innovative building. We love it. And, um, and they were very excited to build it. And , and I remember asking one of them, I said, well, you know, don't you guys get to build stuff like this all the time? And they said, well, no, the majority of what we build is schools, hospitals, administrative buildings. You know, we're, we're rarely asked hey, you know, build this museum of creativity and invention and kind of do whatever you want.

Amir Rubin:

They're very innovative.

Richard Miles:

They're very excited. But it was an insight for me to understand that that part of the business were substantial. You still need schools, you still need to outsource administrative buildings. You need Compton architects to do that. Yeah .

Amir Rubin:

But we do use the Cade Museum in all of our marketing.

Richard Miles:

Oh good, good.

Amir Rubin:

That's a beautiful building. So we have it scanned many times and that's the scan we show off because it looks cool.

Richard Miles:

So Amir, uh, you're not by any means an old guy, but you do have a lot of experience, you've done a lot of things. Sort of looking back on your career, both sort of, in, in school and then also as an engineer and a business. I'm a guy. What, what sort of lesson learned would you give to uh , um , someone who, early twenties, maybe reminds you a little bit of yourself and they're all charged up with a great idea and they're , they're off to the races, they're going to do the next big thing. What would you sit down and tell them over a cup of coffee? Hey, here are the things you definitely should do and watch out for this.

Amir Rubin:

Yeah, that's, that's always a tough one because I think about that question often. And sometimes I wonder, you know, if you're not dumbly and blindly charging forward with the naive enthusiasm of just being out of school and the irrational overconfidence, you know, would you even get anywhere? And so I,

Richard Miles:

So you have to be a little bit blind. Right?

Amir Rubin:

Yeah. I don't like to, um, I don't like to give you know too much advice, you know, a lot of times I find like a lot of the advice I give might sound cynical or jaded. And when I spend with students who are starting new projects, um,

Richard Miles:

Cause you probably get asked a lot, right? I mean, Amir, you're a rockstar in Gainesville. So I'm sure people go ask Amir and he'll tell you the

Amir Rubin:

In the past week alone. Yeah. I find that at least, you know , usually between two and four hours a week meeting with people just to, you know , try to spread the love and give a little encouragement. And so I find it's better to just sometimes give encouragement. And if someone's about to face a very obvious pitfall, try to kind of steer them away from a pitfall. But there's something to be said for like the high energy of when someone has a lot of enthusiasm. Like I learned from that a lot of times when I talk to people.

Richard Miles:

What are some of those common questions you get from those people? I mean, is it all just tell me how you did it or do or there's something specific that they , they, think they need to know and that you can tell them .

Amir Rubin:

I prefer when there is something specific um, sometimes people just wanna kinda, you know, it's sometimes people just want to hear like my experience and , and let themselves, they'll draw their own conclusion. It's just a nice little data point that they can, I could say something like, okay, well in your situation, here's, here's what happened to me and draw your own parallels to that. Sometimes people have a specific problem. Like there's a company here in town that just received a very large order unexpectedly for their product. And they're like, how are we going to build this? How are we, how are we going to get, you know, $50,000 to deliver this in a month? And I was like, well, you know, good luck with that. Um, but you know, I, I help however I can, the most difficult problems I encounter and that I usually am able to kind of see right away even if the founders don't is, you know, like, well let's, let's dig into the relationship between both of you here and like, um, I think that's probably one of the main lessons learned is the relationship aspect of starting a business, especially with your employees and your co-founders and your investors. These are all relationships that, you know, will be strained heavily from the stresses of starting a company and trying to make payroll and stay in business. And that's, you know, my biggest advice is always for people to be mindful around that. And in fact, you know, when, when, when people get far enough along the process and if I'm like really able to be more involved in mentoring or coaching them, I always, you know, my biggest advice is to learn about mindfulness and, um, how to, you know, control your breathing and your thought processes to be a , a , you know, to be more effective communicator and in the very stressful situations that pop up when you're starting a business.

Richard Miles:

It's interesting what you say about sort of maintain that balance, I'd say between trying to inspire somebody, right? And encourage them, but also sort of, uh , speaking realistically and honestly, Um Phoebe who, you know, my, my wife and co-founder Cade Museum was asked to speak on a panel and the subject's panel was loosely sort of like, uh , uh, you know, starting a start a museum, you know, what do you think and Phoebe sells to be the shortest panel ever. I'll say, don't do it. Um, but, uh, it sounds like you have acquired, uh, you know, I almost see a budding venture capitalists here. I'm here. I gotta say, you know, you have all this, a very actual useful information and insights into how these companies are formed. Um, and, and sort of what tends to succeed in what doesn't, what's, what's next on the horizon for you, do you, do you see yourself staying? Well, obviously you're not going to tell me if you're gonna leave, but I mean, what, what is on your bucket list, I guess, say 10 years from now? Where, where do you see yourself being?

Amir Rubin:

Um, uh , you know, I always, when, when we started Paracosm, I said, I'm not going to make the same mistakes. Um , I made at, at my previous, uh , startups and my previous companies and, you know, we've , we've gotten further than, than, than I had before. And so, you know, uh , Paracosm and, uh, you know, we, we still have a lot of, uh, a lot of items on our to do lists that we're focused on. But, um, you know, in , in 10 years, you know, life, uh, you know, the next next adventure will be, um, I, I work really hard to suppress the ideas in my head to be able to focus on Paracosm. But you know, there , there, there's always a next idea and, and you know, in 10 years I would see myself hopefully being a right back on the hamster wheel with , with a new idea and making a new set of mistakes. Um, you know, just, uh , keep trying to, you know, refine. Um, the, the, the, I don't like to call it a process is like keep trying to refine the experience of starting a company and, um, you know, make new mistakes, don't re learn from the old mistakes and try to do it a little better each time.

Richard Miles:

So, uh, Amir when you have that new great idea, come back on Radio Cade we'll talk about it. We'll charge five bucks to download the episode. Once we go platinum we'll , we'll give you a few percentage points.

Amir Rubin:

There you go, I'll take it.

Richard Miles:

Um, Amir, thank you very much for being on Radio Cade this morning, I've learned a lot and uh , I hope to see you back on the show.

Amir Rubin:

Yeah. Thanks for having me, Richard. This was a lot of fun.

Richard Miles:

I'm your host Richard Miles.

Outro:

Radio Cade would like to thank the following people for their help and support, Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and inventor interviews, Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing, and production of the podcast and music theme . Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song featuring violinist Jacob lawson and special thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.