Interview: MDM Alumni Startup Aims to Humanize Technology
Three Master of Digital Media alumni formed H+ Technology last August, with the aim to "Humanize Technology."
The company creates interactive digital displays, such as 360 degree 3D visualizations and gesture-based systems, for public places, like malls, airports, trade shows and real estate showrooms.
The alumni, Yamin Li, Dhruv Adhia and Vincent Yang, who were part of the MDM program’s first and second Cohorts back when the program was just starting, recently had their interactive 3D projection featured at Vancouver’s Mini Maker Faire.
H+ Technology has also partnered with the MDM program this semester, and is working with a student team to advise on a signage project with Shape Properties.
We sat down to chat with the H+ Technology team about the company and their experiences as some of the first graduates of the MDM program.
The following is a recent interview with Yamin Li, Dhruv Adhia and Vincent Yang at the H+ Technology offices.
Tell me a little bit about H+ Technology and what you do.
Dhruv: We are in the field of human computer interaction. Our current vision is to bring unique experiences into public spaces through physical computing systems. The long-term vision is to humanize technology. We work with a variety of industries, currently focusing on public spaces, showrooms, exhibitions, tradeshows and real estate; and we build public, interactive displays for them.
Can you give me an example of some of the displays that you've done?
Dhruv: In the past, our team had working experiences with clients like Jugo Juice and YVR Vancouver Airport. We also worked on a project for Safe Map and Procon Mining Trucks for the MINExpo in Las Vegas. The idea was to showcase a rotating, interactive truck as users were walking in to the expo. The H+ team created a middleware technology into which different input sensors and output mediums could be configured. This technology was previously being used at D-Sign Touchless Interactive Systems, a precursor to H+.
How was H+ Technology started?
Vincent: I helped start D-Sign Interactive Systems, with a group of fellow students from the MDM program’s first cohort in 2009. After leaving D-Sign, I was working part time while also working with Dhruv and Yamin on more interactive projects. In 2011 we had some improvements on the technology, but it still wasn’t sophisticated enough. Then in August last year, we had a lot of potential clients interested in our product so we decided it was time to go for it and incorporated H+ Technology last August.
What do you mean when you say ‘Humanize Technology’?
Dhruv: The idea is not to spend so much time adapting to computers and computing environments but, instead, to spend time figuring out how computers and machines will adapt and learn from human behaviour. In the other sense it's about facilitating and providing information in a very engaging fashion.
What was your experience in the MDM program?
Yamin: I attended a social event held at Radical, and I was impressed with how creative the Master’s program was and how closely they attached to local digital media industry. The curriculums set up and the projects showcased by the first cohort were so creative and fun.
I soon decided to apply to the CDM and happily I was selected. In 2 years of studies, my favorite course was Foundations of Digital Media, as it encompassed the full spirit of entrepreneurship with reference to the digital media industry. I was totally inspired by this course, which helped guide us for the ‘real life’ practical environment. I like the way CDM balances the boundary between academia and industry; something many other schools lack.
Vincent: I graduated from the China Academy of Art in Shanghai. I was one of the first students to find the MDM website and I was very inspired by the idea that they wanted to build a Digital Media Centre. I flew to Vancouver to join the first workshop the CDM held and met with Jeannette Kopak [the Associate Director of the MDM program].
To be honest, I came here just to get a degree but that knowledge and experiences I got in the program was way beyond what I was expecting.
One very neat thing about studying at the CDM is you can meet people from different background and cultures. I met Dhruv Adhia in my second year, as he was one of only a few other students who played table tennis in the hanger. We shared lots of common interests such as in sports, RTS games and most importantly, a dream to take HCI as a topic to study, and use it to create the technology of the future. This synchronicity was one of the fundamental reasons that Dhruv and I eventually formed H+.
Dhruv: I have a degree in Electronics & Communications Engineering from Bangalore in India. I realized that engineering wasn’t my only focus—I love sketching and painting and I was interested in different points of view.
When I was researching graduate schools, I was looking for one that was interdisciplinary—one that focused on solving problems creatively, rather than linearly. It was really hard to find a school. There were some schools in the US, some in Australia and then I found this one in Canada.
I saw Vincent's profile and I thought that this was really neat. I'd be able to work with artists, marketers and people from other backgrounds who aren’t focused on building their resumes but about creating something that can be beneficial to society.
After the MDM program, I wanted to study further and do a PhD. I applied at MIT Media Labs and got selected for the 2nd round. I was in a big dilemma last year but once we started with H+ Technology, I made the decision to postpone university and focus on the company. It’s beyond fortunate to find people like Yamin and Vincent who share the same vision and can work like a family to move things forward. I can always go back to do my PhD, that option is always there.
Did the MDM program meet your expectations?
Dhruv: My expectation of the program was to realize the leader within and to express that in some form. I saw that change in me once I was able to get in front of pioneers at MIT—which is not a small thing—and that to me, being able to lift me to that level, was something huge that I was able to get out of the program.
What’s the biggest difference that you notice with MDM back when you were enrolled in the program versus now?
Yamin: It was a bit of a challenge for us to explain the MDM program back in 2009, as the MDM program was still a new name. I'd tell people that I was from Centre for Digital Media and they'd be "What's that? You’re not coming from UBC?” They had never heard about the program. Now it’s different, the program is recognized by the industry. As early alumni, we’re glad to see the growing reputation of the school.
What’s next for H+ Technology?
Vincent: We’ve just started the journey; lots of challenges and problems are waiting for us to tackle. Our exit strategy is quite flexible, as you never know what is going to happen tomorrow. We will focus on doing the small things well now for our customers and for society. Ideally, we would like to mimic the Esri model. They’ve really focused on organic growth and the value proposition of the company only from the customer’s perspective.