Every year the University of Florida Alumni Association recognizes alumni who are 35 years of age or younger and have distinguished themselves in their profession and community. On the morning of April 12th, at Emerson Alumni Hall, about two-dozen alumni – who studied all around campus, and now live all around the world – gathered for the 2014 Outstanding Young Alumni Awards. Among them was Gator Engineering serial entrepreneur, Amir Rubin.
Rubin was still in his senior year at UF, finishing a degree in electrical and computer engineering, when he started his first company. It was 2003. He’d been working on unmanned aerial vehicles in class and decided to add some intelligence – a camera that could guide the UAV to follow a moving object. He took that idea, a few visionary friends, and lots of advice from the entrepreneurial mentors around the college, and he co-founded Prioria Robotics. A decade later, it has proven itself to be one of Gainesville’s most successful startups.
Six years after co-founding Prioria, Rubin started thinking about a different kind of intelligence. He left his company and consulted for a number of challenging projects, including one in South Florida involving ranch management. He patented a method of weighing cows – without having them step onto scales – using 3D imaging. Then he got a call from another Gator Engineering startup, Shadow Health. They needed someone to design the backend of an interactive online learning environment for nursing students that simulates an exam room with a realistic patient. Rubin jumped on board and was amazed to find that students were not only happy with the 20-30 minute modules he helped create, they were immersing in and exploring the 3D environment for hours, out of pure enjoyment.
He started thinking about this one night – the 3D imaging, the 3D environments, the strong desire he had to be able to comb over every artifact at the Louvre, or the Baseball Hall of Fame, at his leisure, on his couch. His engineering mind came up with an innovative idea. The next morning he called “all the smartest people I know,” Rubin says, referring to his friends. They believed in this innovative idea and they trusted Rubin’s leadership. By the end of that day they had all given notice to their respective employers.
Rubin and his friends formed Paracosm, a company aiming to “3D-ify” the world. Through collaboration with a researcher who got a job at Motorola, they were serendipitously brought into Google’s Project Tango, which seeks to bring 3D mapping capabilities to mobile phones and was top secret until a few months ago.
When 3D sensors are as common on phones as cameras are today, all the individuals scanning the world around them will collectively form a huge database of information in an explorable environment. Paracosm is planning to develop applications that will work with that environment and disrupt any number of industries: real estate, building construction, facilities management, hotel management, retail inventories, archeology, visual effects and film production. But Rubin’s ultimate goal is to someday equip robots to interact with these environments: enter that tour guide at the Louvre, a telemedicine robot at the hospital, and an augmented service reality for the visually impaired.
“Amir is a true visionary. He’s that rare innovation pioneer that speaks through his actions not his words,” says Erik Sander, director of UF’s Engineering Innovation Institute. “He’s also been such a great role model and mentor to students and other entrepreneurs in the area.”
Paracosm is planning to expand, and to become a talent pipeline for UF students. The current 18-person team is made up primarily of Gator Engineering graduates.
“UF has always been really good to me,” says Rubin. “It’s almost impossible to do this kind of work without the support of an ecosystem. Your team, your capital, your network needs to come from somewhere, and for me, it has come from UF.”