A common misconception of the UCF Business Incubation Program is that it helps new entrepreneurs, giving them the tools and resources to learn how to become business owners and grow their business.
While there are plenty of those types of entrepreneurs, there are many Incubator clients who are on their second or third business, serial entrepreneurs who value the resources of the UCF Business Incubation Program.
This year, Advanced Simulation Research Inc., (ASRI) will graduate the program and establish their permanent home in Avalon Park. The owners of ASRI, Juan and Sandra Vaquerizo, are this type of client, owners of multiple businesses and part of the local technology industry in Central Florida for nearly four decades.
Recently, ASRI learned it has been named as one of the of the contracted companies under a new multi-billion-dollar U.S. Air Force contract that could spend nearly $1 billion dollars per awardee on a range of live operational and training technologies – including simulation and artificial intelligence – over the coming years.
“There’s a part of me that wishes we weren’t moving,” Sandra Vaquerizo says. “The support systems of the incubator are just wonderful, with all the expertise that is available, paired with their facilities. It truly helps with many of the issues facing small business.”
The story of ASRI starts in the 1980s, when Sandra and Juan met in college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Their first job was at General Electric’s Simulation and Control Systems Department, which was based in Daytona and focused on flight simulators.
“The first modeling tools were graph paper and pencil, so our GE team innovated some of the first simulation modeling tools and scenes. I was the first person to use photo texture in a simulation at that time,” Sandra Vaquerizo says. “I built all the landmarks for New York City for rooftop helicopter landing training, on a system that is less powerful than today’s smartwatch.”
When General Electric moved to Orlando after merging the division with Lockheed Martin, the first iteration of ASRI was born, as Soft Reality Inc. or “SRI.” That company developed and built simulators for the Army National Guard and for the Space Shuttle program, winning the NASA Shuttle Avionics Integration Lab women-owned small business of the Year.
At that time, there were only a couple of companies working in the simulation industry who could leverage PC Graphics and GPUs.
SRI was sold and after a few years; Juan Vaquerizo then founded ASRI and joined the UCF incubator, with Sandra joining him at the company in 2015, along with Dr. Lisa Spencer, a graduate of UCF and an expert in Computer Vision.
The team was able to expand ASRI’s scope to include AI systems development and AI/ML training, as well as Warfighter training. The techniques to develop efficient code on prior graphics systems allow them to get the most out of the latest small, light-weight, high performance GU-enhanced computers.
Juan received multiple commendations from Army PEO-STRI for his innovative work on the CCTT-DSTS Dismounted Solider Infantry Squad Training system, the first wearable, untethered, immersive, collaborative infantry trainer.
ASRI has received SBIRs and multiple IDIQ awards from the Air Force AFRL, based on their work in AI-enabled airborne “Edge” autonomous systems for ISR applications.
“Juan and Sandra have had a major impact on this region and this industry as they have been on the leading edge of developing technology for our miliary for so many years,” says Carol Ann Logue, director, programs & operations, Innovation Districts & Incubation Program, University of Central Florida. “The incubation program is proud of their growth these past few years and we’re thrilled to see how they will grow in the future.”
Today, the company is focused on developing new technologies in software and hardware for national defense utilizing artificial intelligence on systems that are the size of a hard drive. One of the key areas is in surveillance, where the company uses multiple types of simulated sensors to teach the AI how to find threats. ASRI leverages their expertise in warfighter training through simulation to train and test these new autonomous systems.
“Our autonomous systems can use different types of sensor inputs simultaneously in real time, it’s like a person using all their senses to achieve a higher level of awareness and comprehension,” Sandra Vaquerizo says.
One of the keys to their success is being able to see future technology trends and become a part of that future.
“You have to love this stuff,” Sandra Vaquerizo says. “You need to use your innate curiosity to explore every nuance and see where you can take the technology.”