When Brandon Minor won the Pitch George competition at George Washington University (GW) last year, he knew he was onto something – even though he had never planned on starting a company.
You see, Brandon is a PhD student at GW in the autonomous robotics lab; his thesis is on cold fusion research. He’s a hard science guy – Dr. Sheldon Cooper would love him. His cofounder is one of his lab mates, Vincent Spinella-Mamo. Vincent received his PhD two years ago, and he works at the lab as a post-doc during the day and goes to law school at night.
Some people in the lab had thrown around a couple of ideas for Pitch George, which got Vincent and Brandon thinking. They settled on the idea for reconstructing objects and exporting them for 3D printing. When they won, Replica was born.
They are still researching use statements for the technology, but the technology itself is close to completion.
In 140 characters or less, what does your startup do?
Brandon Minor: Replica brings the real world into the digital world. We turn your mobile phone into a state-of-the-art 3D scanner.
Why is your startup useful?
Vincent Spinella-Mamo: There’s a lot of people trying to break into the market and take advantage of 3D printers. Most Kickstarter campaigns out there require hardware or add-ons, which doesn’t work well for smartphone platforms. We’re basically releasing the consumer from those constraints. It can be used to bring digital objects into the real world – like an icon or avatar. We are trying to capitalize on that and be first-to-market and be there for whatever the consumers’ needs are.
How does it work?
BM: You take a video through our app of an object that you want to see virtualized. You send the video to us through the app and we run our algorithms on the video. The algorithms recreate the object and create a 3D model. We send that back to you for personal use. It’s all pretty fast. You send it to us and get it back within a minute; we are running our algorithms on cloud servers.
What is your business model?
VM: That’s one of the things we’re playing with now. Do we release the app for free, or do we do a markup on the printing? Our only cost is server space, so that let’s us have pretty decent margins.
What do you need now, and what do you want in the long-term?
VM: Long-term is easy: Make it a better user-experience, move away from the cloud to a smart-device platform, work on other algorithms to allow self-calibration and determine the position of the phone, make higher precision measurements, break into other commercial potential – construction, clothing, anything where there’s this full spectrum of capturing something in 3D and turning it into a product.
BM: In the short-term, we need to find our user base. If we knew our market, we could tailor it for what they need, and we’re still doing that research.
In terms of competition, what does the landscape look like?
BM: You’ll find some iPhone apps out there that do visual reconstruction, but they are incredibly bad at what they do. And then you have companies like 3D Systems that have unique hardware that make really, really nice 3D printers. Replica has the advantage of:
1 – making high-quality scans on phones and
2 – not needing specialized hardware.
Tell me something unique or interesting about you or your company that most people don’t know.
VM: My post-doc is funded by the CIA, so these algorithms are being developed to help create energy-efficient path planning for robots, so operators can be out in the field longer while navigating terrain and looking for IEDs. Most of the work I do is on that, and essentially all of the technology for this company sprang from that.