Earlier this year, the Techstars Autonomous Accelerator for the US Air Force took in several startups from the Boston tech scene (and beyond) who are working within the drone and autonomous technology space. One of the organizers of the accelerator, Adam Beal, has experience with working with vehicles, independent or not, in some way, shape or form. Not too long after the accelerator finished, Beal reconnected with a former colleague to start a new tech startup.
The startup, Awayr, has recently exited stealth mode and is continuing that career trend with vehicles. The company has developed exclusive technology that will assist those working in facilities or organizations that have complicated user interfaces.
We spoke with Beal to learn about why he started a new company, how the technology works, and what they have planned for the next year. Beal also went into detail how the platform is working with the Air Force.
Colin Barry [CB]: I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins behind Awayr?
Adam Beal [AB]: My co-founder Ben Sawyer and I attended Colorado State University together, where I was studying Microbiology and Biotechnology, and Ben, Cognitive Psychology. After college, I went into the automotive industry, first founding Beal Automotive, then eventually working in Future Product Strategy at General Motors after earning my MBA at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. Ben went on to obtain degrees in Industrial Engineering and Applied Experimental and Human Factors Psychology, earning his Ph.D. at the University of Central Florida.
When I moved to Boston to help launch the Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator with U.S. Air Force earlier this year, Ben and I reconnected and began to discuss areas of opportunity in the automotive industry and technology generally. We both had experienced the challenges of human-machine interface in the automotive sector, Ben as a researcher and myself as a business strategist. We knew that drivers were unhappy with vehicle infotainment generally and that there was room for improvement in the design process. Awayr then began development of defense applications in order to improve HMI in unmanned systems with the Air Force and across the Department of Defense. Soon after, Kevin Hedrick joined Awayr as Senior Vice President of Engineering. Previously, Kevin led the development of enterprise software at PTC as Senior Vice President.
CB: What is the ultimate goal of Awayr?
AB: The ultimate goal of Awayr is to improve UI/UX and HMI whenever humans use complex interfaces to accomplish high-risk or high-priority tasks. We’ve made substantial headway in two verticals, and believe that our process has the potential for broad application. Awayr will be especially relevant in the context of autonomous vehicles, human-machine teaming, and swarm robotics. We’re developing other, more “fundamental” technologies as well that draw on our expertise in human attention and interface design.
CB: The technology behind Awayr sounds relatively complex...how does it work? How long was the development process on the platform?
AB: Well, we can’t tell you all the details of our proprietary process, but the basic formula is this: We use cutting-edge collection techniques, sensor data and machine vision/machine learning to develop software for use in UI/UX design, evaluation and state-detection. We give designers and engineers insights into optimal interface design early in the product development process to reduce prototyping/testing cycles and deliver a better and safer end-product to the user.
CB: Who are some of the ideal clients for Awayr?
AB: We are currently working with the Air Force in developing Awayr for evaluating user interfaces for independent systems, and are in talks with major automotive OEMs regarding the development of Awayr for automotive infotainment design and testing. Eventually, we plan to sell to enterprise automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. In the defense space, we see Awayr enabling next-gen HMI in a variety of vehicle and mission types; especially in the context of automatic systems, aerospace, UAS / Counter-UAS, robotics and swarming.
CB: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months?
AB: Currently, we are a team of 6. We’ll likely be hiring skilled software engineers and human factors professionals in Q1 2019.
CB: I’m always interested in how a startup came up with its name. How did Awayr get its name?
AB: Our technology is based on a deep understanding of how users interact with HMI. What the user is “aware” of, and when, is key to successful outcomes and pleasurable user experience. Awayr delivers these insights in a measurable, actionable form to enable data-driven design and evaluation of HMI.
CB: What can we expect to see from Awayr?
AB: Awayr was selected for the Creative Destruction Lab - Artificial Intelligence Accelerator Class of 2019, in partnership with HEC, Montreal. Currently, the United States Navy Director of Unmanned Systems, Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence, is “embedded” with the Awayr team as part of the MD5 Startup Innovation Fellowship (SIF). The SIF pairs are leading startups with service members and civilian defense professionals to share perspective and working together to develop solutions to the Department of Defense’s most pressing challenges. Look for big things as Awayr continues to pursue ambitious goals in 2019!