Juxtopia: Looking Toward the Biotech Future
Jayfus Doswell envisions a day when anyone in need of assistance performing a task could simply don a pair goggles.
The eyewear would guide the user through the task -- be it changing a tire, defeating an opponent in paintball, or responding to fallen troops on a battlefield -- offering audio cues and information and digital displays projected onto the real-world view.
It's a reality Doswell is hard at work creating with Juxtopia, a Baltimore-based biomedical and information technology company focused on improving human performance mainly in the areas of learning and health.
Doswell, founder and CEO of Juxtopia, calls the transparent goggles a "wearable augmented reality system." Now in research and development, they are the company's flagship product.
Don't Google it...Goggle it
Juxtopia is focused on readying the goggles for combat medics who need on-demand assistance while responding to injured soldiers. Through a wireless connection (similiar to a cell phone headset), the medic could receive voice commands, pictures and even see the soldier's medical records, Doswell says. No wireless network on the battlefield? The headset can store some procedures and information, he says.
"There are still a lot of preventable deaths on the battlefield," Doswell says.
And the possibilities are endless: a tourist tooling around Baltimore on a guided tour, a motorist with simple car trouble, an automotive assembly line worker tasked with building a custom BMW, all would benefit from Doswell's goggles.
"There are many different applications," Doswell says.
From the Lab to the Boardroom
Doswell is an entrepreneur and a scientist – with degrees in psychology, computer science and information technology - who was born and raised in Baltimore, making the city the natural choice for founding the company in 2001.
"It's home for me," Doswell says.
It's also home to the Emerging Technology Centers (ETC) , an incubator for technology start-ups that provides affordable facilities and support. The ETC drew Doswell back to Baltimore and offered the space, resources and networking he needed to start Juxtopia.
Adding to Baltimore allure is that the city is also home to a slew of universities and colleges to collaborate with and mine for eager and bright talent.
"Maryland provides the best university research space," Doswell says, adding he gets the benefits of the labs without the headache of high rents or long commutes of Bethesda, Md., or Washington, D.C.
"We get a lot of things done faster just by being in this local area," he adds
Maryland's universities and federal labs have helped drive the state's biotech boom, and local officials have recognized this potential. Under his BIO 2020 initiative announced last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged to invest more than $1 billion in the state's bioscience industry over the next 10 years to attract more biotech companies.
In June, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), which provides business funding and incubation, announced that Juxtopia was one of 12 companies to receive about $50,000 in grant funding through the Fort Detrick Technology Transfer Initiative. Juxtopia also has received Phase 1 and Phase 2 Small Business Technology Transfer grants from the National Science Foundation to develop applications for the goggles.
A Talented Community
Meanwhile, Juxtopia has tapped into the talent at several local universities, including Morgan State, where electrical engineering students get the hands-on experience of developing these biomedical technologies.
"Students get more involved, and they are more excited when they are working on the real technology," says Corey Dickens, an electrical engineering professor at Morgan State.
"They're actually doing the work."
The partnership has prompted a possible employment opportunity at Juxtopia for one student, Dickens says, and other technology companies have approached Dickens to set up a similar relationship.
"He has set up a model for other businesses," he says.
Doswell's connection to his home city extends beyond the high-tech goggles being developed by Juxtopia.
Math and Science is Cool
He created a nonprofit organization, Juxtopia Group, in 2000 to boost the science, technology, engineering and math proficiency in the underserved and disadvantaged communities in Baltimore. In May 2008, the group entered a team in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, a space entrepreneurship challenge.
The so-called JURBAN – Juxtopia Urban Robotics Brilliant Application Network – team, made up of African American high school and college students from Baltimore, is competing alongside more than a dozen teams for a total prize of $30 million.
"We are competing against likes of Carnegie Mellon [University], but it's the journey of students really getting involved in math and science and getting them excited again," Doswell says.
The teams are competing to send a robot to the moon before 2012, navigate across the lunar surface, and transmit images back to earth, according to the JAKA Consulting Group, a minority-owned business development and marketing company that has partnered with Juxtopia on the effort.
"You don't get many African American firms interested in something like going to the moon," says Allen Herbert, vice president of JAKA Consulting Group. "It's just so out there."
But unless this community gets involved now, Herbert says, they'll be left behind when, in 2021, space becomes a trillion dollar industry.
And JURBAN is one way to get the community involved, he says.
Eyes on the Prize
The lunar mission fits well into Juxtopia's work developing augmented displays, Doswell says. Perhaps one day the goggles could replace the astronaut's helmets and provide more complete and interactive data for the astronauts.
Doswell has also trained his sights on growing Juxtopia into a multi-billion dollar company by expanding the use of wireless technology. He envisions the goggles being put to use in areas such as schools, construction jobs, and even the kitchen for an aspiring chef. "Anywhere people are trained and providing assistance," he says.
Jason Harris, a program manager for Maryland TEDCO who works with Juxtopia, agrees the goggles could have multiple applications, and says Doswell – who he describes as "very persistent" – is certainly destined for great accomplishments.
"There's a lot of interest in his project," Harris says. "I see things opening up very soon."
Sara Michael, who lives in Remington, is a writer and editor who has written about health, science and technology.