From Fairfax County, Vricon is helping government and private firms map out success in 3D
Whether it’s assessing the landscape for military operations, making optimum decisions in the world of business or offering regional planners the chance to envision ideal development for urban or suburban growth, Vricon’s intent is to make a meaningful difference — in 3D.
Based in Tysons and Sweden, Vricon Systems LLC was created in 2015 in a joint venture of Saab and Digital Globe. Its essential mission is to present all corners of our planet in a three-dimensional view, offering decision-makers highly-accurate analytical and data models to visualize situations, anticipate challenges and make real-time choices thanks to an unrivaled and up-to-date library of commercial satellite imagery.
|Vricon Vice President Isaac Zaworski discusses his company’s innovative 3D mapping and software as well as the benefits of its Tysons location in this FCEDA video.||
“Digital Globe invested their entire archive of ultra-high resolution commercial satellite imagery — that’s about 100 petabytes of imagery (one petabyte equates to one thousand billion bytes) and counting every day,” says Isaac Zaworski, vice president of business development and the first employee of Vricon Systems. “Saab invested a portfolio of its intellectual property. Putting those two pieces together is what has enabled us to attack incredibly challenging problems.”
Beyond the primary challenge of presenting the world accurately and in the highest resolution possible in 3D, a second challenge is to create awareness – with both public- and private-sectors customers — of the benefits advanced technology presents when it comes to mapping, management and planning.
“We deal with customers who have been living in a fundamentally two-dimensional world for their entire lives,” Zaworski says. “The mapping community is very conservative and traditional and has gotten very good at creating products in two dimensions that do a good job of approximating our world. The problem is when you want to get down to answering questions at the human scale of the world as we experience it, trying to do that in two dimensions is very difficult.
“We spend a lot of time educating decision-makers about what changes are important and also educating technologists and developers through our partners and our customers about how to think in three dimensions – how to do math in three dimensions; how to deal with data standards in three dimensions.”
As complicated as it all sounds, Zaworski received a most basic reminder about the importance of his company’s mission when he was invited to embed with the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group for training exercises in the bitter cold of a Michigan winter. It was a reminder that Vricon technology can save lives.
|A 3D model of Atlanta represented through Vricon’s Telco Suite product. (Images, Vricon)|
“Within 15 minutes, all of their electronic equipment is dead and all the soldiers have is a paper map with a picture and half a dozen locations spelled out that could be things they need to worry about,” Zaworski said. “That’s just unacceptable in today’s world where I can pull out my iPhone, pull up a 3-D map of Tysons Corner, and I can see every single building where anyone could be hiding or concealed and present a potentially dangerous situation.”
It wasn’t the first time Zaworski saw Vricon’s benefits in a military setting. A Cornell-educated engineer by trade, the Oregon native spent significant time in overseas tactical environments developing new tools and methodologies for warfighters.
“The military is a heavy consumer of mapping programs and for them, accuracy and precision and detail are critical, particularly in places around the world that can be very difficult to get to,” he said. “I had the opportunity, coming out of grad school, to deploy to Afghanistan in support of a special operations task force [working on] intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. Very frankly, it’s the only reason I’m in this community today.
“In high school, I never would have guessed that I’d be here. The mission is such a critical one, yet it’s easy to forget about on a daily basis. These people are out there protecting us every single day in places around the world that we don’t really know [much] about. They’re going to do it whether they have all the tools to keep them safe or not. They are committed to the mission. So, the idea that we can do something here that will fundamentally enable them to have a better chance to come home safely is a really powerful thing.”
Terrain mapping is a common application for Vricon’s software and data sets.
“It’s pretty straight-forward when you’re in Fairfax County and you can type into Google maps and say ‘here’s where I want to go,’ ” Zaworski says. “It’s more difficult when you’re thinking about an all-terrain vehicle traveling across a country where there are no roads and the ground [characteristics] may change. You have to consider water and that you don’t have the ability to drive over a cliff or over some grades of elevation. So, the ability to accurately map out how you would get from one place to another is a hypothetical scenario that we can help plan for.”
Beyond the military, Vricon has practical applications that the business world is embracing.
“By far, the biggest commercial vertical that we’re operating in right now is the commercial telecomm industry,” Zaworski says. “It touches everyone. With all the investment that is currently being made in 5G network rollouts, the commercial telecomm companies have come to realize that high resolution geospatial data is critical for them.
|Vricon model of Washington, D.C.. The company uses satellite imagery to build its models.|
“One need is to be able to actually plan where to put all their base stations. In order to achieve the bandwidth they’re talking about with 5G, they need 10 times as many base stations and those stations are more sensitive to interference from trees and buildings than previous generation antennae were. So, we’re doing a lot of work to build out very accurate data in the U.S. to support all of that analysis.”
Zaworski says that thanks to Digital Globe’s electro-optical imagery, Vricon has the ability to build about 90 percent of the Earth, the exception being primarily in equatorial regions where persistent cloud cover makes photography difficult.
Vricon is growing. About 35 of its 75 employees are based in Tysons, many of them 3D geospatial analysts who employ both highly automated algorithms, their experience and intuition to identify places where events of significant consequence could occur.
“The experience component is really very important,” Zaworski says. “We have the benefit of being in this area and able to pull employees with really strong geo-spatial backgrounds because so many companies in the Washington, D.C., area have been working in geospatial fields for a long time. Having the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquartered in Springfield, Virginia, is certainly a big piece of that.
“So, a location in Tysons Corner has been perfect for our growing company. It’s centrally located among all of the key U.S. government customers that we deal with all the time. It’s in an area that’s Metro-accessible. A lot of our geospatial analysts are on the younger side and they have families. The ability to have an accessible workplace is a good deal for them. Besides that, Tysons has developed a reputation for being a little bit of a ‘cool’ place at this point in time. So, people actually like the idea of being able to work here.”
If there’s any downside to growth, it’s that Vricon’s current office space is bulging at the seams. “We’re definitely going to need more room as we scale out,” says Zaworski, noting that he feels secure that the company will remain at or in close proximity to its home on Greensboro Drive, no doubt a good bet given Vricon’s ability to map out the future.