Owl AI Wins $100,000 in the New York Luminate Competition

OWL AI will join the startup program to help advance its patented thermal imaging technology

OWL AI, a client company in RIT’s Venture Creations incubator, was a winner in the New York state-funded Luminate NY accelerator program.

OWL AI was among 126 applicants from 22 countries that rose to the top, winning a $100,000 prize and entry into Cohort 4 of the program. Luminate NY is the world’s largest accelerator program for optics, photonics, and imaging (OPI) startups, and is also instrumental in helping early-stage startups gain clear competitive advantages with the funds necessary to further their technological advancements.

OWL AI was founded in 2018 by president and CEO Chuck Gershman and Chief Technology Officer Gene Petilli and joined Venture Creations in July 2020. The company has introduced a new patented sensor modality, which is being marketed as the “world’s only monocular 3D thermal ranging solution.” The modality promises high precision, representing a vast improvement in the resolution and cloud density of LiDAR. For example, it can classify cyclists, animals, pedestrians, and vehicles, while also calculating speed, direction, and position.

“We have found that curb sensors in automated mobility systems, like self-driving cars and driver-assist safety ADAS, in low light or no-light conditions, or in degraded visual environments like smoke, fog, glare, or snow, have been found to be ineffective,” said Gershman. “OWL has developed a sensor that tackles this problem by increasing the probability for safe driving through all these conditions.”

This sensor can detect and classify objects around a vehicle in any environment, ensuring that drivers are aware of their surroundings at all times. According to Gershman, nearly every automotive equipment manufacturer and their key automotive suppliers are talking with OWL about how to add high-definition 3D thermal imaging to their solutions.

The OWL founding team has been developing sensor solutions for more than 30 years, from the earliest days of the first digital cameras to multiple thermal imaging systems in space. 

“As a Rochester-based company, OWL is thrilled to have been recognized and selected by Luminate for its Cohort 4,” added Gershman. “Working with the Luminate team will dramatically help us as we grow our team locally and connect with world-class optical partners in the region.”

“All of us at Venture Creations would like to thank New York state and Empire State Development for their continued support of our startup companies, and we are proud of the hard work and accomplishments of our member company OWL AI,” said Peter Parts, interim director of RIT’s Venture Creations incubator. “The Luminate NY competition brings together some of the absolute best and brightest optics, photonics and imaging companies in the world. By providing quality coaching and connections with industry professionals, Venture Creations creates an environment where these cutting-edge businesses can develop and thrive. New York state is an innovation hub, and Venture Creations is proud to be part of that ecosystem.”

Luminate NY, which is administered by NextCorps, is funded by Empire State Development’s Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative. Luminate has invested $7.15 million in 30 startups and these companies, in turn, have raised $26 million and collectively share a net worth of $160 million.

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