March 2020 Update: COVID-19, Virtual Presence, What's Next?
Posted by Christopher Mitchell, Ph.D..
If I had been writing this update a few weeks ago, it certainly would have started differently: I might have led with the days getting longer, all the travel we had been doing, our aggressive hiring, and so on. Now, we live in a changed world, with entire populations locked down or in danger of massive fatalities, where everyone is stressed, panicked, and glued to the news, and where support systems are overextended.
Our team started to distance two and a half weeks ago and switched to fully working from home on March 13th, and we've been watching with horror as this crisis unfolds. We're sure that "business as usual" is the last thing on your mind, and we hope you're taking the time to look after yourself and your mental and physical health, making sure your older friends and relatives have what they need, staying inside and practicing social distancing, and heeding professional guidance.
It has certainly been a time where business across most sectors has been upended: restaurants and retail shops are shut down or suffering, tourism and travel has dropped to near zero, and those introverts of us who have always loved working from home are seeing the majority of the white-collar workforce return to it or try it for the first time.
And suddenly, as everyone is working from home, they're inevitably thinking about virtual presence. While the immediate need is to hold meetings, we're already seeing demand accelerate for gaming (Valve's Steam service has repeatedly broken traffic records) and for digital twins. We often start our pitches with a mental exercise about just what it takes to turn the real world into rich virtual copies that you can "explore in your computer" - and with vast swathes of the world's population now locked down in their homes, this is an exercise that many are starting to consider. We are accelerating our efforts to get our Geopipe worlds into more computers:
- Next week, we'll be holding an informal competition in requiem for the postponed GDC, providing free access to our downtown San Francisco model through our Unity SDK, and encouraging developers to build a creative game or experience around it.
- We've run our Providence, Rhode Island through our Minecraft converter, so with the Brown Esports team, we're making virtual tours of Brown University in Minecraft possible.
- We're collecting feedback on creating an Unreal port of our Unity SDK - if you use Unreal and want to use real-world environments in what you're creating, let me know!
- We continue to expand our products and customer base in gaming and simulation. One of the seeds that inspired Geopipe was a project to put New York City into Minecraft, and as noted above, we've resurrected our Minecraft exporter.
- With the Brown Esports team, we've unveiled a Minecraft model of Providence (including the Brown University campus), and we'll be exploring virtual tours with other organizations.
- We also continue to work on our Unity SDK, and we anticipate announcing other integrations soon. Need a Geopipe world in your own game or simulation, in Unity or elsewhere? Let us know!
In our last update, we mentioned that we were one of the five companies in the latest GENIUS NY cohort, receiving bizdev and company development assistance as well as a cool $500K or $1M in minimally dilutive funding.
- Parts of the team spent nearly two months in Syracuse, NY participating in the program (until Geopipe switched to remote work), working on business planning, continuing to outline our ongoing strategy, and building partnerships with businesses, municipalities, and talent sources.
- Although the April 22nd finals competition for the $1M top prize has been postponed, we're looking forward to continuing to work remotely with the enthusiastic coaches and mentors in the program.
We continue to explore opportunities with the Department of Defense.
- In our last update, we mentioned our AFWERX SBIR contract to find virtual warfighter training needs within the Air Force, and in the past few months, we continued to work with Air Force stakeholders to identify the most pressing problems and move on to the next phase of the AFWERX SBIR.
- In January, we pitched in Los Angeles as part of an Army effort called xTechSearch 4.0 to identify startups with cutting-edge technology applicable to defense use cases, and subsequently won a $10K prize to continue to the next phase of the competition.
- In February, Christopher showcased Geopipe at an Air Force wargaming event, and Geopipe engineer David spent a week hacking on geospatial data at a SOFWERX/USSOCOM event.
- We were one of ten startups and small businesses driving innovation in the US selected by the US Small Business Administration's SBDC for a showcase in DC in February. The event was held on Capitol Hill, and gave us a chance to share Geopipe with congresspeople, staff, and other entrepreneurs.
- We also traveled to Georgia, Florida, San Francisco, and elsewhere for meetings and events throughout January, February, and early March. We unfortunately had to cancel travel to the MIPIM 2020 expo in Cannes, France, to AUSA 2020 in Huntsville, Alabama, and to GDC 2020 in San Francisco, and we anticipate that we won't be traveling anywhere soon.
- On the positive side, we did bring new interns on-board in New York City, Middlebury and Burlington, and soon Syracuse - who will of course all be working remotely. We're hiring for other roles, especially full-time C++ devs: send any good candidates our way!
As we continue to navigate this unprecedented crisis, I urge you again to support your friends and family, be thankful for those keeping the healthcare, food, water, power, and internet flowing, stay home, and stay away from others. We're here if you need us: please don't hesitate to send me an email if you want to chat for any reason (even if it's not about Geopipe). I believe this is going to be a generation-defining event, and that our world will never look the same once it's over. I trust we will make it through together.
Christopher Mitchell, Ph.D.
Cofounder, Geopipe, Inc.