Bill Waite and Steve Hill, co-founders of AEgis, invested $1,000 to get incorporated in September of 1988. Hill said, “We owned a couple of old computers to practice our modeling and simulation (M&S) trade, but we still laugh today about how I met a guy in a restaurant parking lot to buy a printer out of his trunk for $60 from a newspaper ad. Our first classified safe sat outside empty for a couple of weeks before we moved into our first ‘office’ which was a basement bedroom in Bill's house.”
The son of an Army colonel, Hill always wanted to do something positive to support the Armed Forces, and his partner, Bill Waite, is equally passionate about M&S. These combined passions eventually led them to establish AEgis Technologies—a company that utilizes M&S technology to create training solutions for the Armed Forces as well as geospatial solutions for other government agencies and commercial industries. “After college, my initial inspiration was to start a company to train warfighters so they would make it back home,” said Hill, now president and CEO of AEgis Technologies.
Over time, AEgis evolved into a larger company capable of supporting the entire life cycle of modeling and simulation – from research, concept and requirements definition; to design, prototyping, development and fabrication; to integration, test and evaluation, verification and validation; to fielding, training, technical support and maintenance.
Directions Magazine(DM): How did AEgis get into the modeling and simulation business? Who were some of your first clients and what projects arose from that business?
Steve Hill (SH): Bill Waite first came to Huntsville [Alabama] in 1971 with the SKYLAB program. He began his work in simulation at MICOM and joined Riverside Institute in 1985. I joined Riverside in 1987 after graduating from UAH. At Riverside, I worked for Waite on several weapons programs, including SDI. Talk of the company closing its Huntsville office made Bill and I think about leaving Riverside to stake our own claim on the defense market. Bill and I wanted to be more in control of how we did the work and what kind of product we provided the customer.
Our relationships with many of our clients began well before the creation of AEgis, back when we both worked for the Riverside Research Institute, a defense contractor that has since left Huntsville. Bill took charge of getting the company’s first clients, and I put administrative and business structures into place. With five employees, we began AEgis Research with an impressive array of initial projects including the Avenger, Chaparral and SA-DARM missile systems and the Extended Air Defense Test Bed.
DM: Tell us how AEgis got into developing a geospatial technology practice and was it an outgrowth of a specific client need?
SH: In 2005, David King, executive vice president of the Simulation Development Division, attended the GEOINT Symposium. He recognized the opportunity in the marketplace for 3D visualization expertise because at the time, 2D was the norm. Thus, AEgis partnered with DigitalGlobe for imagery, and began creating 3D imagery and databases supporting the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
Employees of the Geospatial Programs at AEgis’ Simulation Development Division like to refer to their effort as art meeting science and technology. That’s because the model creation process is not just a rote mechanical process. They believe that it takes a sophisticated blend of mathematics and critical artistic eyes to create models that are accurate, detailed and visually appealing. AEgis has built 3D models simulating reality for years supporting the DoD, the intelligence community (IC) and commercial customers. The Beijing Olympics was one of the first opportunities AEgis had to leverage our geospatial modeling technologies for a commercial project.
DM: When did NBC come to you about building 3D models for the Olympics and how did that first engagement with a major TV network come to pass?
SH: In 2007, DigitalGlobe teamed up with AEgis to provide NBC with access to a 3D digital model of Beijing during the network’s broadcasts of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. It was the first time this groundbreaking technology had been leveraged to develop highly accurate 3D simulation quickly for NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. Collaboration between AEgis’ geospatial modeling technology and DigitalGlobe’s extensive library of satellite imagery content allowed virtual databases to be rendered in just days and the data was also exported out of the model in various formats for use in other applications such as Esri ARCmap and Google Earth.
DM: What’s been the result of that engagement with NBC and what’s the growth potential of 3D building models in other industries?
SH: Development of the terrain and models for NBC was a large effort that required multiple 3D modelers, texture artists and geographic information system (GIS) analysts. Using satellite imagery and open source data, the team produced the most accurate and detailed models available for NBC. AEgis’ in-depth knowledge of terrain database development and integration of high-resolution 3D models into databases was the baseline of the 2008 Beijing Olympics effort which grew into producing other databases for future projects like the Super Bowl, NATO Summit, and Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, and London, England.
AEgis sees the growth potential of 3D building models as unlimited. For example, AEgis brings the power, flexibility and realism of game-based development to commercial real estate planning and presentation. We provide the ability to transform the traditional 2D “bird’s-eye view” planned community or commercial development diagram into an interactive, immersive and realistic 3D experience. Targeted for commercial developers, city planners and master planned community architects, AEgis has a suite of tools and breadth of experience to assist in bringing customization, visualization and realism to the project. Customers, partners and community stakeholders no longer wonder how the final project will look; they are able to see the board plan, down to the most minor detail and become immersed – allowing individuals to come as close to the real and final outcome as possible.
Going forward, AEgis continues to find innovative applications for its M&S and geospatial modeling technologies in many industries. As the company celebrates its 25th anniversary milestone, we intend to build on our 25 year M&S legacy to further diversify our products and services into architecture and commercial project development; energy, oil and gas; media and entertainment; urban planning; and insurance.
DM: Do you see GIS as a growth area for services or do you see it as an embedded technology that supports your modeling and simulation?
SH: The world of modeling and simulation has merged with the geospatial world, helping people understand their surroundings better than ever. Our modeling, simulation and geospatial capabilities are relevant for many customers, partners and applications, such as the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama’s (EDPA) “Alabama Interactive” innovative and value-added tool. AEgis designed the database of industrial building and sites in Alabama to be used as a marketing tool for businesses and site consultants considering conducting business in Alabama. AEgis has been asked by the EDPA to improve this already impressive tool due to its unique capabilities in geospatial technology. We work with Greg Knighton, an EDPA vice president, and he believes that a sophisticated geographic information system is the cornerstone of the database. Users will be able to control a mapping product and turn on layers of information about the state. These layers will include basic information, such as transportation infrastructure and geo-political boundaries, as well as advanced information such as automotive and aerospace companies, universities and airports. The site also will showcase the partners who make up EDPA, including those active in economic development roles, such as utilities and banks. AEgis continues to seek ways to apply its geospatial M&S technical capabilities to the commercial sector.
DM: What do the next three years look like for Aegis? Are there new business opportunities for the company despite a shrinking budget for defense contracts?
SH: With the DoD making up over 85% of our revenues, AEgis relies heavily on the defense community. Our business model within the defense community has many aspects. We forge profitable business teaming relationships on major procurements either as a prime or subcontractor or joint venture arrangement; we engage in innovative partnerships with research facilities like Oak Ridge National Laboratories to advance cutting edge nanoscale technologies from concept to deployment with applications ranging from defense to energy to biotechnology; and we actively participate in numerous industry professional associations such as the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA) to inform and educate the legislative policymaking acquisition and regulatory functions of government, including Congress, the Department of Defense and other agencies.
Areas of focus for 2014-2015 include a concentrated effort to diversify our customer base within the DoD and market our services and products into commercial industries. Examples include expanding the substantial amount of services and products we provide to the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force into the U.S. Navy; increasing our T&E services especially in testing that utilizes modeling and simulation; helping foster resurgence in directed energy systems development, simulation, and training; providing low cost image generation solutions and additional UAV simulation products and solutions; and creating growth in advanced GIS, gaming, and simulator development projects.