The Future Is Now: “Now with high-resolution, 3-D aerial imagery, you can be in another place without leaving your office” With Dr. Rob Newman & Fotis Georgiadis
In the insurance industry, RaaS changes the entire insurance and claim process radically. If the claims adjuster has access to the latest images, including 3-D map content accessible in the cloud, he or she can see the damage without leaving the office. They can measure the affected area at their desk. And with historical photos taken, they can compare before and after shots of the roof. If the damage is real, they can come up with an estimate of repair costs on the spot. They can also determine if photos suggest a fake claim. RaaS has applications for drone deliveries too. For a drone to travel and land safely at your home, it can’t rely on two-dimensional map content alone. There are trees, bushes, neighboring homes and other obstructions to navigate. Only the most up-to-date 3-D elevation information, along with real-time information, will provide a completely safe delivery.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rob Newman, CEO & Managing Director of Nearmap. Rob has a unique track record as a successful Australian high technology entrepreneur in Australia and Silicon Valley. He has twice founded and built businesses on Australian technology and both have successfully entered overseas markets.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was studying electronic engineering at The University of Western Australia, I saw a television program about Silicon Valley, describing how silicon chips were creating tremendous advances in technology. Being raised in a family of multi-generational business owners, this program inspired me to use my love of electronics and computers to start a business before I left school. That became my dream. Along with my supervisor, we were fascinated by the idea of connecting computers together to transfer data — it was a new idea at the time. Together, we started a computer networking company called QPSX Communications while I was studying at the university. We loved the idea of creating technologies that would help define new opportunities in electronics and computing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The second company I started served the telecom industry, providing both internet and voice services. Our technology was more advanced than what any other company was offering, and it was one-tenth of the price of any competitor. The telcos loved it! We had 22 companies trialling our product. Yet, nobody bought our solution. Zero. We couldn’t figure out why companies weren’t buying. One day we took a tour of one of the companies we were selling to. In the loading dock, they had boxes and boxes of our competitors’ products, which had half the functionality and cost 10 times as much. We finally figured out that nobody bought because the telcos were structured with completely separate voice and internet departments. The voice services department wanted only voice products, while the internet division wanted only internet products. It was too much work, for each department, to maintain additional features. We went back to our office and restructured the product, turning off voice features. We sold more than $1 million the next month. The lesson is that you need to understand the customer intimately and how they buy. It stuck with me forever. Unless you see the color of the eyes of the customer, you don’t understand them.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
With our high-resolution, 3-D aerial imagery, we can effectively deliver Reality as a Service (RaaS).
RaaS allows you to stream reality — not reconstructed design images, but the real thing in very detailed aerial views. Through RaaS, you can see streets, buildings, local infrastructure or any other location in immersive 3-D.
Combining machine learning and artificial intelligence with our Reality as a Service allows automatic detection and differentiation of features such as skylights from solar panels, pools from ponds and other ground features like potholes or road imperfections. Other systems can analyze the height, width and surface area of buildings.
Combine RaaS with another dimension — time — and you can see what has changed in an area. For example, a retail development company can discover how many new homes were built in a specific subdivision compared to the last six months. A telecom company analyzing 5G wireless tower coverage can see how new obstructions will impact (or have impacted) the wireless signal.
RaaS streams from the cloud, so users discover all of this information on their desktop or device.
High-resolution cameras capture not only the image of a location, but they also collect additional metadata about the area, geolocated to specific points on a map. The image of a 100-yard football field measures precisely 100 yards. Imagery shows the height of a building, the length of a pitched roof and the area of a particular location.
How do you think this might change the world?
RaaS applications are unlimited. Some of the industries on the forefront of potential applications are autonomous driving, smart cities, retail and commercial development, mapping, architecture, design, construction, insurance, solar and engineering industries, among others.
In one example, RaaS gives companies a 3-D view of their projects, allowing them to measure all aspects of a location, such as determining the surface area, pitch and shading on a roof, so that a company can install solar panels.
Mapping applications used to be used merely for directions. Now mapping apps solve a multitude of everyday challenges: tracking down the next taxi, deciding where to eat, monitoring traffic and finding places to meet up with friends.
In the insurance industry, RaaS changes the entire insurance and claim process radically. If the claims adjuster has access to the latest images, including 3-D map content accessible in the cloud, he or she can see the damage without leaving the office. They can measure the affected area at their desk. And with historical photos taken, they can compare before and after shots of the roof. If the damage is real, they can come up with an estimate of repair costs on the spot. They can also determine if photos suggest a fake claim.
RaaS has applications for drone deliveries too. For a drone to travel and land safely at your home, it can’t rely on two-dimensional map content alone. There are trees, bushes, neighboring homes and other obstructions to navigate. Only the most up-to-date 3-D elevation information, along with real-time information, will provide a completely safe delivery.
Autonomous cars need more than 2-D content, too. They must continuously generate and consume high-fidelity mapping content in order to maneuver safely in a dynamic, urban environment. Lidar units and radar sensors assemble a 360-degree view of the environment and collect data that can be processed by machine-learning algorithms to help guide self-driving cars and avoid accidents. High-resolution aerial imagery also helps by providing a recent map of stationary objects — curbs, traffic lights, buildings, construction sites, etc. With this technology on board, the cars’ sensors can track only objects in motion — pedestrians, other cars, and so on. These systems will help reduce the cost of sensors and the cars.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
At this point, the industry has drawn a distinct line between public safety, security and compliance, and personal privacy. The resolution of imagery is captured such that many larger details can be identified, such as a pool versus a deck or road conditions in a neighborhood. However, the resolution is not so sharp as to provide positive identification of a person at a specific location or to view and transcribe license plates. Aerial imagery, even when combined with AI, is focused on saving lives or helping develop liveable cities. We’re changing the way people view the world, so they can change the way they work and make a positive impact on the world they live in.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
The tipping point started in 2008 as Stuart Nixon, the founder of Nearmap, saw the laborious process by which aerial imagery was generated. A company would fly a plane and take photos. Then someone would manually stitch the photos together. The process would take months. By the time the images were delivered to a customer, the photos were already out of date. Stuart, with his background in software development, envisioned a process that would automate the production of images. With the Nearmap team, they developed a camera system and software to completely automate the production process, reducing it from months to days to hours. The other tipping point was the development of the cloud, allowing users to access the data — and not just images of their location, but of anywhere in the world — from any device. These tipping points democratized aerial imagery, providing aerial photos to all businesses on a subscription basis. Before Nearmap, a large percentage of businesses didn’t purchase aerial imagery. Today, these companies are finding new ways to use imagery for their businesses.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
The key ingredients to widespread adoption include cloud access, mobile devices and big data, which are all available to businesses and consumers already. Businesses are developing applications that use the aerial imagery with machine learning/AI in their respective industries. These applications help users spend less time and money traveling to work sites, make better decisions faster, and ultimately transform the way they work.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Along with tried and true techniques such as social media, digital marketing and PR, Nearmap marketing strategies are based on providing value to our users and democratizing our service for everyone.
We also provide a service when the world needs it. When something major happens in the world, we’re able to capture it and help people restore their world quickly. For instance, with major floods that happened in Brisbane, Nearmap chartered a plane, flew during the peak of the floods, processed it overnight and had it on the national news the following night. We’ve been able to do the same in Florida and other areas affected by hurricanes. We captured the devastation quickly to assist rescue and recovery operations.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father was a banker and always inspired me to invest and take risks. When I was a teenager, my dad encouraged me to buy cattle and breed them. With my father’s help, I used the money I made to buy a small home at the age of 16. I then sold it at 20 to buy my second home.
My supervisor of the honors program at the University of Western Australia also had a profound impact on me. He emphasized the importance of finding highly complex technologies that could influence industries and then seek to understand both the technology and the market deeply. He instilled in me that engineering research should not be about just publishing papers, but to use the research to transform the world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Nearmap has partnered with the Moreton Bay Koala Rescue since 2015 to track developments that might disturb natural koala habitats and to research the best places to release rescued koalas that have been raised in home care. By understanding a potential release area’s environment with current, detailed aerial imagery, the Rescue can better determine whether it’s going to be a comfortable habitat for the koala.
Other areas of Nearmap’s positive impact:
· Public Safety — Emergency Communications Districts have implemented Nearmap aerial imagery to geocode and plot new addresses and developments into 911 mapping systems to help fire and rescue, emergency medical services and law enforcement get instant access to updated maps containing GIS data needed to get to the right locations as soon as possible. A bird’s eye view provides a different perspective and helps find missing people and deploy search groups fast.
· Humanitarian Efforts — Nearmap captures areas devastated by natural disasters to support cleanup and reconstruction efforts across the vast ecosystem of public safety, utility companies, insurance agencies, and numerous contractors in many industries.
· Green Endeavors — Eliminating site visits through Nearmap off-site assessments contribute to green efforts by reducing the carbon footprint.
· Work Safety — Utility professionals can reduce dangerous tasks like roof inspections by using Nearmap imagery to make evaluations.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. “Be bolder than you think you need to be. Leap even further.”
I spent several years of my career as a venture capitalist. When I analyzed the most successful investments, they were always the ones that had the deepest technology innovation and fundamentally transformed how businesses worked.
2. “Start with the customer & understand the customer needs.”
Unless you see the color of the eyes of the customer, you don’t know them. When I owned my second company in the telecom industry, getting to know the customer was transformative. By inquiring of our customers, we learned the way telcos were structured. The voice services department wanted only voice products, while the internet division wanted only internet products. We went back to our office and restructured the product, turning off voice features. We sold more than $1 million the next month. The lesson is that you need to understand the customer intimately and how they buy. It stuck with me forever.
3. “Take less money than you need from a venture capitalist.”
I was a VC during the financial crisis of 2008. When the crisis hit, we realized that it would be very difficult to raise additional capital for our investee companies. So, we told each of the CEOs there would be no additional capital invested. It was the best thing we could have done. Each CEO immediately focused on increasing revenue and making their businesses cash flow positive rather than investing more and expecting to raise more capital.
4. “Strong competitors are the best thing that could happen to you.”
For several years, Nearmap had no credible competitor. Then, a startup was funded to replicate our business. It forced us to rapidly advance our technology and focus more on our customer experience. The result was that we ended up with a better product than the startup, and our customer retention and growth has improved markedly, despite increased competition.
5. “Follow your passion but give it a time clock/deadline.”
I believe at least once in your life you should follow your passion; chase your dreams. However, as a mentor of startups, I have seen too many people continue with their unsustainable startup for 10 years or more. If it doesn’t work in the first few years, it is unlikely to work (and more likely some newer startup will leapfrog you). So, if you are part of a startup, ask a very good friend to meet with you in four years, and if you are still struggling, move on.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-
A significant movement would be to broaden communication across our planet. The more access we all have to information, the better our quality of life. Sharing ideas boosts productivity, elevates businesses and increases human empathy.
Everyone deserves access to reputable resources. The more available these are, the better our world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t have a life lesson quote, as I tend to see the world in pictures (maybe that is why I work at Nearmap). The image that resonates with me is an iconic picture from the New York City Marathon in the 1970s. The picture shows just the legs of exhausted runners, standing in the pouring rain.
This photo carries so much meaning. Achievement only comes after years of preparation, and even then, the road is never easy. However, the complete feeling of relief, achievement and exhaustion makes all of the hard work worthwhile.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
At Nearmap, we take massive amounts of data and make it digestible and accessible to a lot of people with sophisticated technology. This quantum leap in data and computing capacity has allowed us to model and analyze the real world — all from our desktop and mobile devices. Our aerial maps coupled with analytics platforms empower users to make decisions faster than ever before.
Nearmap aerial captures change the way people view the world and profoundly impact the way they work.
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