This weekend kicks off the inaugural OrlandoiX event, a five day conference showcasing the latest in technology, media, and digital arts. Among other things, conference goers can expect interactive experiences, a digital start up summit, and the opportunity to explore companies on the cutting edge of technological advancement. One of those companies, Paracosm, is changing the way we view the world around us by using cloud-based 3D mapping software to create immersive experiences and provide robots with a better understanding of physical spaces. We spoke with Jed Adams, Paracosm’s Head of Experience Design, to find out more.
What is Paracosm?
Paracosm makes software that builds 3D models of indoor spaces. We use depth cameras to scan rooms and record depth information. Once a space has been scanned, the data is uploaded to our cloud where our algorithms stitch all the pieces together, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, to build a 3D model. Once models have been formed, they can be downloaded in several file types and used for many cool things.
My background is in game development, so I use Paracosm’s technology to build augmented reality (AR) experiences, which are grounded in real world environments. Basically, I get to show off our tech, demonstrate neat things you can do with it, and explore new possibilities.
How does Paracosm differ from other augmented reality companies?
Well, we’re not exactly an AR company. We build technology that can enable and improve immersive experiences; so really, we want to share our technology with adventurous studios looking to develop mixed reality experiences. When a game understands the shape of the environment it’s in, magical things can happen. Imagine playing a game where the level is your actual house. With a 3D map in the mix, the characters can be accurately displayed, spatially aware, and appear more realistic. Right now, gaming happens on the screen. Our technology allows games to break out into real world environments.
Obviously, the benefit of providing robots with better spatial reasoning skills has huge implications for the tech industry. What are other ways you or someone else might implement this technology? Do you foresee it having an impact on other areas and industries, such as the domestic space?
Yes, right now robots are pretty blind. Typically, bots have on-board sensors to help them not bump into things but they don’t know much about the shape of the world they’re in. If a robot has a 3D map of a building, like an office or a hospital, it can navigate much better and direct itself to specific places within a building. There’s a great need for robots to see and navigate. For the domestic space, we believe 3D maps of people’s houses will be critical to the smarthome of the future. If your robot has a map, and is constantly updating it, you could give it audible instructions to vacuum the living room or fetch you a drink from the fridge because it will know where things are!
How does Paracosm’s mapping software work? Is there any special equipment involved?
Our software is pretty device agnostic. If a device or machine has a depth camera and can record decent depth information, we can support it. We have the most experience working with data from the PrimeSense (acquired by Apple), Intel’s RealSense, and Google’s Project Tango. These devices are currently only available to developers, but pretty soon we’ll have depth sensors on our smartphones and tablets. They’ll be integrated in all kinds of devices.
You guys have chosen Gainesville, FL as your headquarters. Why Florida and not a traditional tech hub like California?
Well, we were born in the swamp. Our CEO, Amir Rubin, graduated from the University of Florida and Florida is our homebase. We’re able to recruit top-notch engineers from [around the state]. In order to establish relationships with other companies and partners, we do a lot of traveling, but we also accomplish a lot via Skype and Google Hangouts. Nothing beats face-to-face interactions, but technology enables us to work from anywhere in the world. We’re also close to Orlando, which has great schools and is home to some of the world’s best entertainment and simulation companies. We’re also happy to be close to one of the biggest AR forerunners, Magic Leap. They are based in South Florida and recently closed a $542 million investment round led by Google. There’s some exciting stuff happening in Florida!
When most people think of AR, they probably think of it as an entertainment medium (most people are probably familiar with the technology through Xbox’s Kinect system). In what ways might AR shape future technologies, and how might it be of more practical use?
While the Kinect is certainly a product people are most familiar with; it’s more of a motion tracker that uses depth information to detect movements in games in which they players’ bodies are the controller. Augmented reality works a little differently and is usually experienced through a mobile device like a phone or tablet, or with an AR headset like Google Glass, Daqri’s helmet, or one day, the top secret project Magic Leap is working on.
But yes, AR isn’t just for gaming. Many companies are exploring extremely practical AR solutions for all kinds of industries. AR could help surgeons operate, guide technicians through repairs, in manufacturing, and in navigating warehouse environments. At the moment, we’re looking into how our software, combined with an AR headset, can help order fulfillment companies. An AR navigation system could help workers locate products with directions to the aisles and bins in order to increase efficiency and safety.
How might a student who is interested in this type of work prepare themselves for the industry? What advice would you give to a new graduate looking to break into the field?
Our advice is: take some time to learn C, C++, or C#. Learn Unity3D, learn the basics of Blender, follow the tutorials on our blog, experiment with our demos, don’t be afraid to borrow ideas from other people, or to see what other people are doing and try and replicate them at first. Don’t stress trying to one-up anyone. Do spend time trying to think how to make things better or more fun or more useful. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. Fail often, fail fast. Learn each time where you went wrong and grow from it. Each failure is a lesson for next time. Show us what you’ve got!
Want to know more about Paracosm and what they do? Find them at OiX! CEO Amir Rubin will be giving a presentation on Sunday, October 4 at the Orange County Convention Center (Room W230 A&B) titled “Immerse Yourself with the Latest AR/VRTech.” The company will also have exhibit space at the Digital Expo on Monday, October 5 and Tuesday, October 6.