Of all of the profoundly innovative and intuitive technology showcased at the first annual Lightning Awards, few were as inherently simple, yet groundbreaking, as Bounce Imaging. An idea that can save lives, Bounce Imaging’s product cuts spending costs for first responders and ultimately changes the entire approach to a crisis situation, all wrapped up in a neat little ball.
The small ball features six camera sensors attached to a single processor. Completely self-stabilizing and durable enough to withstand harsh abuse, try tossing the camera through the window of a burning building and, voila, you have a 360-degree panorama of the entire room. The view can be navigated via computer, tablet or a VR headset. The product has already been eagerly adopted by emergency response teams worldwide, from New York state troopers to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Mali.
The idea for Bounce came as a result of the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti, as president and CEO Francisco Aguilar explained.
“There were about 300,000 people buried and, after the first 48 hours, international rescue teams showed up and rescued about 150 people.” About 75 of those were found by two U.S. teams that had fancy pole cameras that you could stick down and get views of places, Aguilar said.
“The problem is, 90 percent of the rescues after a big event like that happen in the first 48 hours. So what we were looking at is how do we make something that is cheap, easy to use, easy to carry that could give you a very quick view of a collapsed structure or confined space, and was cheap enough that it could get deployed before the international teams got there.”
The Bounce Imaging product was born out of Harvard Innovation Lab. And so far, responses from everyone from first responders to the consumer market have been resoundingly positive. In 2012, the product was listed as one of Time magazine’s Top 25 inventions of the year. It has received recognition from CNN, Popular Science magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
A simple idea some might say, but the logistics of creating a ball that can be thrown while maintaining a stable image is an incredibly complex undertaking.
“It’s not six cameras, it’s one six-eyed camera, and what that means is that we can precisely synchronize those image sensors. We’re doing it at a highly precise level,” Aguilar said.
“When we started out, it was something that we thought ‘oh, that’s so easy.’ But it turns out to be such a difficult technical problem for a bunch of reasons,” including stabilization, controlling temperature and surviving impact.
Another issue is just how durable they need to be. The camera is protected by a thick rubber exterior layer, which in turn covers an inner high-strength plastic, similar to the polymer used in Glock handguns, which covers the central processor. The result is a product that can be dropped repeatedly from 7 feet and with enough strength to be tossed through a single-frame window.
“Each component is on its own carrier made of its own plastic,” Aguilar said. “So when you have an impact, the rubber deflects and absorbs energy, the casing deflects and absorbs, so you have three mechanical transfers before you actually get to the components. That’s what gives it a lot of its resilience.”
The Bounce products are currently produced at a manufacturing facility in Massachusetts and come in a few different varieties. Prices, at least within the world of niche cameras, are fairly affordable. The standard tactical edition, which takes video in infrared monochrome, costs $2,850. With audio the price is $3,350, and the 4G version supported by Verizon is $4,500. The latter option allows the signal from the camera to transfer via Verizon’s broadband network to another location, which means the rescue team on the ground could have direct support from a desk-bound operations team.
“Not only are you, as a first responder, able to throw this in a hallway and look around to see if someone’s waiting for you around the next corner, you can be broadcasting this back to your sheriff, your mayor, your city command,” Agular said. “They can be saying ‘OK, I’ve looked around, you need help.’ They can even be looking behind you while you’re looking forward, giving you an extra set of eyes as you’re that lonely first responder dealing with something horrific.”
Prior to the move to Luminate, Bounce had taken up residency at Buffalo’s 43 North incubator, where they left residency in 2016. Buffalo’s police department and many of surrounding suburban police forces have already adopted Bounce’s technology. Calling Boston home and now in Rochester, Bounce is one of the companies in Luminate that is beyond its infancy. They not only have the idea, they’ve implemented it, have found their market and are already seeing some success. Now comes the time where they seek a solid manufacturing hub, and as Aguilar sees it, Rochester is looking promising.
“New York state has been pretty welcoming to us, so we’re pretty incentivized to stick around,” Aguilar said. “There’s obviously the follow-on investment which comes in June, and that comes with a requirement to stay in New York, so that would obviously create some more incentives to stay here. But regardless of whether or not we get that funding, we are looking very seriously at bringing some of our final production to this area, and right now we’re in the process of validating we can do that. This is a mission-critical product, and we won’t move manufacturing until we’ve 100 percent replicated that we can do the exact same thing here that we can do in our current facility.”
Spotlight on Luminate
Ten companies composed of some of the brightest minds in the field of optics, imaging and photonics are fine-tuning their technologies inside NextCorps’ Luminate accelerator. The winners of November’s first Lightning Awards, these companies each received $100,000 in funding, free residency in the accelerator and access to High Tech Rochester’s web of resources and mentoring. In June, the most promising of these 10 will receive a total of $2 million in follow-on funding. Leading up to June, the Rochester Business Journal will feature profiles of the companies holding the keys to the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s imaging center.
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