Startup of the Week

Digital Twins of Reality and the Virtual Campuses of Geopipe

Every week, the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute elects a Startup of the Week. We then invite the founders of these startups to share a blog post with our community. These posts can be inspirational, educational, or entertaining. Founders can share founding stories, resources, lessons, or anything else.

This blog post was written by Christopher Mitchell, PhD (Courant '16), Founder & CEO of Geopipe.

Imagine a perfect digital copy of your favorite city that you could explore by walking, driving, or flying through any street in any neighborhood.

Imagine digitally exploring a college campus, a neighborhood development, or a new city—finding your new favorite coffee shop or mapping out your running route.

Imagine every detail of the real world in a game, first responders trained in a digital twin of reality, and perfect visualizations of tomorrow's buildings exactly where they'll be built.

Enter Geopipe: we use AI to build the authoritative digital twin of the real world.

Geopipe automatically builds rich, immersive 3D models of real cities for gaming, simulation, and architecture. Professionals in these fields currently spend months and thousands of dollars collecting data and painstakingly hand-building 3D models of even small areas of existing cities. It takes so long and is so expensive because they need models labeled with what's actually in the world, not just how it looks.

Geopipe uses machine learning and other algorithmic techniques to understand the structure of the world from raw sensor data, then turns that semantic information into expansive 3D models tagged with objects and their properties. Customers license these models for instant use in rendering and 3D editing software, game and VR engines, and beyond.

With the spread of COVID-19 and introduction of shelter-in-place movement restrictions, we stumbled on another way to give back to the academic community that had nurtured us. Since prospective students could no longer visit campuses as they weighed which school to attend, we discovered an opportunity to provide rich virtual tours of colleges.

We were fortunate that we had already been working with the Brown University eSports Team to build our digital twin of Providence, Rhode Island into a rich Minecraft world, generated by AI to match Brown’s campus as closely as possible. With their help, our virtual Providence was rapidly refined into a beautiful twin that accepted students could explore from the comfort of their own homes.

Now, we’re working with universities around the country to build similar virtual environments – explorable not just in Minecraft but directly from a web browser, so prospective students can get a real feeling for the campus they might make their home for four years or more. We’re excited to turn hundreds of square miles into virtual 3D environments in less than a day. If we can inspire a few of the students who see Geopipe’s virtual tours to try building something cool with our core products for game developers and simulation creators, all the better.

And academia has already been a vital part of Geopipe’s journey, from providing research experience and startup support to being a great source of employees, mentors, and customers.

Geopipe’s formative months were spent in the NYU Summer Launchpad program and at the Leslie eLab, learning about customer discovery and the Lean Launchpad methodology, becoming fast friends with fellow founders, and building our understanding of our market, customers, and product. As our journey took us through many hundreds of customer discovery interviews, an MVP, other accelerator programs like Techstars NYC and GENIUS NY, and fundraising and hiring, we continued to stay close to our academic roots. We’ve hired interns and employees from our academic networks, and I’ve had the pleasure to spend the last year as a Founder-in-Residence at the Leslie eLab, occasionally guiding nascent startups alongside building Geopipe’s success.

Even as COVID-19 restrictions eventually ease and the world adapts to a new normal, we look forward to continuing to help students, gamers, and professionals explore the real world of today and tomorrow in virtual space.