MIT Sloan student, graduate develop affordable, portable camera for first responders

November 29, 2012

A blue sphere the size of a baseball and studded with cameras is tossed into a collapsed building.

Moments later, a rescue worker has panoramic photos of the scene inside. Scene’s clear, move on, risk averted, time saved.

A prototype of the Explorer

It’s the Explorer, a device worthy of James Bond, but at $500 everyday heroes not blessed with Her Majesty’s war chest can use it too. Its creators, Francisco Aguilar, MBA ’12, and David Young, MBA ’13, founded a new company, Bounce Imaging, in early 2012 and are working on a prototype of the Explorer. In October, the company won $50,000 in the 2012 MassChallenge startup competition and $10,000 in the VenCorps NYC Impact Challenge.

And their idea took off in technology and mainstream media, earning a spot on Time magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year 2012 list. Aguilar and Young aim to sell the Explorer beginning in the fall of 2013.

Bounce Imaging was conceived when Aguilar and Young met in “Leadership Lessons Learned from the Military,” a class held during MIT’s Independent Activities Period, a January term of forums, lectures, courses, and activities offered to all MIT students.

Aguilar was designing what would become the Explorer to enable police, firefighters, search and rescue teams, and other first responders to see inside dangerous spaces without exposing themselves to harm. The idea was born in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when Aguilar watched on the news as rescuers using cumbersome fiber optic cameras struggled to find survivors in piles of rubble.

“I immediately recognized that this could be applicable to so many different situations,” Young said, “this idea of being able to see inside a dangerous unseen space without actually sending your team inside of it.”

The Explorer is expected to contain six cameras that take panoramic images, as well as built-in sensors that detect radiation, temperature, or carbon monoxide levels, depending on the application. The images and data are transmitted to the user where they are displayed on an Android-based device.

“It will cost about $500. Most other camera devices cost in the thousands so this will be affordable to many,” Young said. “If the situation is dangerous, and the camera cannot be retrieved, it’s not the end of the world because it’s not expensive.”

Aguilar and Young have entered the Haverhill Hardware Horizons Challenge—a technology startup competition in northeast Massachusetts—and partnered with Lightspeed Manufacturing in Haverhill to build the Explorer. The pair used resources at the MIT Media Lab and the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and entered the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

“When I came to MIT Sloan, I didn’t think I would start a company,” Young said. “Creating Bounce Imaging with Francisco is really a testament to what a great place MIT is. There are so many resources and opportunities available here for entrepreneurs. It’s just phenomenal.”