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Roboflow is streamlining the development of computer vision apps

Since the early days of artificial intelligence, computer scientists have been attempting to create machines that can see and understand the world as we do.

In recent years, these efforts have led to the emergence of computer vision, a vast subfield of AI and computer science that deals with processing the content of visual data. The field has taken great leaps and has even surpassed humans in many tasks related to detecting and labeling objects.

That said, computer vision is still, in many ways, in its infancy and developers using the technology still face many challenges.

A new Des Moines based company —Roboflow—is looking to change that by removing the pain points that developers come across when creating computer vision and AR apps. Founded by Brad Dwyer and Joseph Nelson, Roboflow offers toolsets that make developing computer vision and AR apps easier.

Roboflow grew out of Dwyer’s award-winning Sudoku solver, Magic Sudoku. Following the success of Magic Sudoku, Dwyer decided to step away from his role as CEO at Hatchlings and focus on AR and computer vision technology.

This past summer, Dwyer hired an intern to help him work on enhancing board games using AR and computer vision. That work led to BoardBoss, an app that enhances board games by using AR

“We had a bunch of hypotheses we wanted to test and we were able to pin things down,” said Dwyer. “What we found out was, while we could build those apps, there’s a lot of pain points in the process of building AR apps that are not solved yet. It’s still this really nascent industry.”

Ultimately, Dywer decided he want to build a developer tool to help other people create computer vision and AR apps and that was the genesis of Roboflow.

“It’s one of those things where a lot of applications will feel obvious in hindsight,” said Nelson. “But there’s just these million paper cuts you face when you try to build a computer vision app that we’re focused on making far more seamless.”

Roboflow was recently accepted into Pioneer, an online, remote accelerator that funds projects and startups built around the world. Roboflow has been at the top of Pioneer’s leaderboard for three straight months.

Roboflow Organize

Roboflow’s first tool, Roboflow Organize, allows users to manage image datasets for computer vision modeling. Using Roboflow Organize, developers can keep track of images and annotations as well as save money by doing preprocess and image training ahead of time

“We’re focusing on this tool first because it’s one of the biggest pain points we had and there’s not really any tools on the market to address this,” said Dwyer.

Currently, teams often manage their datasets by using local file systems and tools like Dropbox which are designed for basic file storage and not designed for machine learning and training data.

Looking forward

Long-term, Dwyer and Nelson see multiple potential paths for Roboflow.

“On the one side is the augmented reality side of things where you can make things smart with software instead of hardware. We think that is going to be the way objects interact in the future and want to enable developers to be able to do that,” said Dwyer. “On the other side, the computer vision part is applicable well beyond making objects smart, from things like cancer diagnoses to self-driving cars to even things like insurance and agriculture.”

One of the biggest challenges Roboflow faces is making sure it is tackling the right problems, Dwyer and Nelson told Clay & Milk.

“When you’re really early to a space, people sometimes don’t realize that the tools they’re using aren’t well attuned to the problems and ways in which they’re using those tools,” said Nelson. “So for us, it’s really important we make sure our vision is clear and that we’re focusing on the highest leverage thing.”

“We think computer vision is both going to transform the economy more than the internet did and that its going to move from the realm of research and development to the realm of small teams of developers being able to create really powerful apps that they couldn’t before,” said Dwyer.

Roboflow is streamlining the development of computer vision apps | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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