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June 07, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Techstars | Mixed-reality platform provides access to experts across space and time

HyperTunnel represents a two-decade journey for Eduardo Neeter to bring experts to frontline workers where and when they need them.

Two decades after he first worked with the technology in a research lab in Japan while in college, Eduardo Neeter founded a company that is bringing that technology to market as a participant in Cohort 2 of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator.”

“I’ve been dreaming about this technology for more than 20 years,” Neeter told us, explaining that the company he founded is named HyperTunnel®, and the underlying technology is a mixed-reality software platform that provides access for frontline workers to experts across space and time.

When he was first exposed to virtual and augmented reality in 1996, they were very futuristic. Today, they are becoming more mainstream and are now frequently combined into something called mixed reality.

For Neeter, it’s a matter of ensuring that frontline workers in energy, oil, and gas industries, as well as the military, have access to critical expertise on an as-needed basis wherever the workers happen to be.

“Organizations need to have access to the right experts, at the right place, at the right time,” the start-up declares on its website. That is frequently challenging, particularly for those in remote locations performing manual, intensive tasks involving complex and dangerous scenarios. And the problem of access to experts is further exacerbated as those recognized experts begin to retire.

HyperTunnel® is described as a mixed-reality workflow platform for synchronous and asynchronous remote collaboration. It provides a real-time, persistent, synchronized, digital twin of a worksite that can be accessed and used anytime, anywhere. For those not familiar with the term digital twin, it is a way to provide frontline workers the ability to collaborate with remote experts inside a shared immersive replica or “twin” of the remote worksite.

How does the technology work? You might say it is as simple as 1, 2, 3, 4.

  • A 3D scan is used to produce a digital twin of the physical worksite;
  • A virtual reality multi-user interface is deployed in the digital twin;
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning are used to augment the digital twin; and
  • The result is enabling human-like interactions and communication between the frontline worker and the experts.

The start-up currently offers three variations of its solution:

  • DistantPresence which is a synchronous, online version that enables frontline workers to summon an expert for side-by-side collaboration through a shared immersive digital twin, providing full site situational awareness, and an avatar on site to demonstrate how to perform tasks;
  • MindCapture, an asynchronous, offline option where experts record demonstrations, place annotations, and add media and documents in the 3D space that can be retrieved on demand at the worksite; and
  • ClassroomBuilder that is a low-code development tool used to create immersive replicas of existing worksites for training and simulations. Employees working on dangerous tasks can learn and practice the same skills in a safe virtual environment.

After launching the company in 2016, Neeter says he started with forensic scene reconstruction before pivoting to more industrial use cases. He secured Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovation Research awards from the U.S. Department of Energy and started working with Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. (PSEG), a diversified energy company headquartered in Newark, N.J.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 which severely limited the start-up’s ability to work with customers on-site, although product development continued.

Today, HyperTunnel® has a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Navy for maintenance of aircraft on board aircraft carriers, is in deep conversations with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, and has a couple of industry pilots with energy and transportation companies.

HyperTunnel® was selected as a finalist for the “Defense TechConnect Readiness Innovation Challenge” last September.

As far as his participation in the Techstars program, Neeter says he’s looking for two outcomes. One is pilots with the industry to demonstrate the product and better understand market fit. The other is exposure to investors.

He sees the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the three sponsors, as both a shorter-term and longer-term partner. The other two sponsors – the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory – offer longer-term opportunities to “keep developing aspirational capabilities.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: All of the 10 companies will be pitching at the “Industries of the Future Summit powered by Techstars” scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 21 at The Mill & Mine, 227 West Depot Avenue, Knoxville. To register, click here.)

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