360-degree imaging is part of everyday life. Circle Optics technology is being designed to accelerate the delivery of life saving resources, ensure aerospace safety, and enhance surveillance capabilities for national security. 360° Pulse Podcast is dedicated to featuring immersive technology and innovators working on these capabilities. We recently got to interview Dr. Charbel Rizk Founder, CEO, CTO of Oculi who won the $1M Luminate Accelerator Prize for 2023.
360-degree imaging is part of everyday life. Circle Optics technology is being designed to accelerate the delivery of life saving resources, ensure aerospace safety, and enhance surveillance capabilities for national security. 360° Pulse Podcast is dedicated to featuring immersive technology and innovators working on these capabilities.
Dr. Charbel Rizk, Founder, CEO, and CTO of Oculi, spearheads the groundbreaking commercialization of a novel artificial vision architecture blending biological efficiency with machine speed. Rizk’s collaborative ethos extends across academia, industry, and government sectors, showcasing effective technical leadership and mentorship, complemented by key contributions at renowned aerospace entities like Rockwell Aerospace, McDonnell Douglas, and Boeing. In addition, Oculi won the $1M Luminate Accelerator Prize for 2023. Oculi makes computer/machine vision faster and more efficient by embedding intelligence in the sensor starting at the pixel. You can read more about them on their website.
Here are some highlights from our recent conversation:
How Was your Luminate Accelerator Experience?
My experience with Luminate Accelerator was incredibly positive. I genuinely believe it’s an exceptional opportunity for startups in this industry and would highly recommend it to any startup considering such a program. The experience was truly enriching on multiple levels. Not only did it provide invaluable support and crucial elements necessary for nurturing an early-stage startup, but the team behind Luminate was exceptional. They weren’t just professionals; they were wonderful individuals who went above and beyond.
One of the standout aspects was how they introduced us to the Rochester area. This turned out to be a win-win situation. As I was actively seeking a new location for my company, their introduction and insights about Rochester truly impressed me. It wasn’t something I disclosed until later—particularly after winning a million-dollar prize—but their efforts significantly influenced my decision to consider relocating the company there. Reflecting on it now, my only regret is not participating in this program a couple of years earlier. The entire experience was truly remarkable and transformative for my startup journey.
What was the genesis for Oculi?
Reflecting on the genesis of Oculi, I always find myself pondering the moments when we began realizing the innovative potential of our ideas. Many often search for a defining “eureka” instant, but truthfully, it wasn’t a single moment. Instead, it was a journey—a culmination of events, discussions, and collaborations involving numerous individuals over time.
Our journey didn’t originate from a groundbreaking concept; adding intelligence to sensors was an idea that others had considered before us. In fact, my initial proposal to DARPA was met with skepticism. They cited substantial previous investments in similar concepts that hadn’t progressed, and I faced the daunting task of explaining how we would differentiate ourselves from those efforts.
What set us apart and eventually proved our potential for innovation, as seen in today’s market data, was our approach—a systemic perspective. Throughout my career, I’ve always focused on developing systems rather than confining myself to specific technologies or research areas. I specialized in smart and autonomous mobile systems. Viewing computer and machine vision through this lens led us to where we are now.
The realization struck when we acknowledged that while machines and computers function at incredible speeds, their vision systems lagged significantly behind human perception. This recognition sparked a pivotal question: How could we address this disparity effectively? It became a personal challenge for me and the team—to achieve machine vision efficiency comparable to human vision, setting that as our benchmark.
What advice do you offer those seeking successful interdisciplinary collaboration?
When it comes to interdisciplinary collaboration, I firmly believe in the age-old saying that it takes a village to accomplish something significant. In the world of innovation, it’s more apt to say that it takes a well-balanced team to truly drive innovation forward. Despite earning the title of innovator multiple times throughout my career, I’ve always understood that no single person holds a monopoly on good ideas.
Sure, there are individuals who spark initial thoughts and ideas, but turning those sparks into tangible innovations requires the right team. I stress this point consistently to my startup team. It’s a reminder that no one person, including myself, can singularly propel a company to its full potential.
I often tell my team members that my efforts alone won’t suffice to take the company where it needs to go. It’s a collective endeavor, requiring each and every one of us. In my previous academic life, ego was prevalent, especially in academia. Even in industry, there’s often a “Not Invented Here” syndrome, a belief that one’s resources and team are self-sufficient for everything. However, my successes stemmed from tackling substantial challenges, motivating everyone to recognize that no single person can solve the entire problem alone.
Once a team forms, I stress the importance of shedding individual biases and affiliations. It’s about joining forces and seeing success or failure as a collective outcome. The percentage of individual contribution becomes insignificant because, in the end, the team’s success is everyone’s success, and likewise, any setbacks reflect on the entire team.
Establishing these principles early on is crucial. Everyone should feel valued and understand that there’s room for their input. Egos and personal affiliations need to be set aside when collaborating in the conference room. It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels they have a stake in the collective effort, nurturing an atmosphere of collaboration and shared accountability.
Given the human/technology interface – what is your point of view about ethics?
When it comes to ethics, especially in areas like AI, machine learning, and autonomous systems, my perspective is quite definitive. Ethics are the backbone of progress in these fields. The advancements we make must be aligned with moral and societal values to ensure responsible and beneficial outcomes for humanity.
AI, machine learning, and autonomous systems wield tremendous power. They have the capacity to revolutionize industries, improve lives, and transform how we function as a society. However, this potential comes with significant responsibility. It’s crucial to embed ethical considerations into the development, deployment, and use of these technologies.
One key aspect is ensuring transparency and accountability. It’s essential to understand and explain how AI systems arrive at their decisions or actions. This transparency not only builds trust but also allows for scrutiny and accountability when things go wrong.
Another critical facet is fairness and avoiding bias in algorithms. These systems learn from data, and if that data contains biases, the AI can inadvertently perpetuate them. Therefore, it’s vital to continuously assess and mitigate biases, ensuring fairness in decision-making across diverse populations.
Moreover, privacy and data security are paramount. As these systems handle vast amounts of personal data, safeguarding privacy and securing data against breaches or misuse is non-negotiable.
Furthermore, ethical considerations must extend to the potential impact on employment and society. While these technologies offer great promise, they could also disrupt job markets and societal structures. Ensuring that the benefits are widely distributed and mitigating negative impacts is a crucial ethical concern.
In essence, ethics in AI, machine learning, and autonomous systems are not just a matter of compliance; they are a moral imperative. By integrating ethical principles into the core of technological advancements, we can strive for innovations that serve humanity’s best interests while upholding our values and societal well-being.
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Circle Optics is a Lumiante Accelerator Alumi (Cohort 2, 2019). You may also enjoy hearing how we are revolutionizing how you view the world.