Bringing government tech to a store near you.
Although Ann Arbor-based Cybernet Systems began as a government development shop, company executives began to take a good look at what they were developing and saw a beautiful vision indeed: commercial potential for their products. The company has developed technology for defense, medical, and even the game industry. CEO Chuck Jacobus talks about artificial intelligence, Linux, and jumping out of airplanes.
How did the company get started?
In 1988, Cybernet Systems was formed by a collaboration of three researchers who combined human factors and interface design expertise with robotics and artificial intelligence to give the company a balance of mechanical, electronics, human-computer interface, and computer network systems development expertise. After that, the company focused on developing robotics and emerging Internet applications for the federal government.
How did Cybernet transition into taking work done for the government and developing it for commercial applications?
The company recognized the value of its intellectual property and took steps to transform itself from a contract R&D business into one that mixed R&D, licensing, and product development. The first significant effort in this direction was the development of specialty force-feedback joysticks. We also developed a NetMAX Internet appliance software based on Red Hat Linux.
What are some other examples of the projects you’ve done?
We have released OpenSkies, a massive multiplayer online gaming product that includes support for PC games and Sony PS2. This was developed based on government training simulation environments. Cybernet is leveraging its computer vision expertise and intellectual property into a new technology area called gesture recognition. And it is developing a range of motion tracking systems to support lower-cost inertial navigation solutions applied to robotics, parachute safety devices and precision guidance applications. The current issued patent count is now at 19, with approximately 12 additional patents pending.
How do you decide what technology has consumer potential?
It starts with the R&D process. If an entity is willing to pay us to develop a product or technology, we know that at least one entity wants it. Because our clients are usually focused on leading-edge technology, they may want something developed before it is widely recognized as useful. This gives us time to dream about larger scale, and do market assessments and product development trials.
What are some of the benefits of working with the government?
It keeps us at the leading edge of technology, and it allows our staff an outlet for development along the lines of personal interests. For instance, our work on tracking systems for ground, air, and parachute safety products was the result of one of our engineers who really wanted to make products to support flight and extreme sports–what is more extreme than jumping out of perfectly good airplanes?
What do you like best about what the company does?
I love to see customers relate to our technology and products, and I also get a real kick out of the new development projects that my engineers and scientists identify, develop and bring in the door. My goal for the next couple of years is to bring more business development expertise into the company to accelerate our spin-off and new commercial product launch rate. On average, it has taken us about 10 years to go from first concept to successful business strategy; I’d like to get that at three to five years.
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