Ingenuitas Puts Open-Source Software to Work in Manufacturing

12/6/11Follow @XconomyDET

In ancient Roman times, Ingenuitas was a legal term for those who had been born free, and the word served to distinguish those who had enjoyed freedom since birth from freemen who started out in slavery. Nathan Oostendorp, Katherine Scott, and Anthony Oliver chose Ingenuitas as the name of their startup tech company because the “born free” ethos is a clever nod to their mission to revolutionize the manufacturing sector through open-source software.

Launched in April, Ann Arbor-based Ingenuitas was created with the goal of bringing the technology used on factory floors into the post-Internet age.

“There’s a big deficiency in smarts when it comes to the computers used in manufacturing,” says Oostendorp, who was a co-founder of Slashdot.org and director of SourceForge.net prior to starting Ingenuitas. “The computers used on the line are based on technology that’s 20 to 30 years old.”

What Katherine Scott, Ingenuitas’ director of R&D, wants to eliminate are the inefficiences in the current system of checking for product defects as they roll off the assembly line. “Right now, a person stares at the assembly line all day. That’s not only expensive, it’s a very monotonous job that leads to high turnover,” Scott says.

What Ingenuitas has developed is software called Simple CV, which uses a Python interface to open-source vision libraries to give users access to algorithms in feature detection, filtering, and pattern recognition. It’s supposed to enable camera-equipped computers to take over line-inspection duties.

“Manufacturing is probably the least startup-friendly sector right now,” Oostendorp says. “Certainly in the last decade, it’s been a really unfashionable sector. But a lot of people in the manufacturing sector who have survived realize we need different models to compete globally—we need to change from a labor-based model to a tech-based model.”

A startup that proposes to change manufacturing from a labor-based model in a state that is arguably the last bonafide labor-union stronghold in the United States? Sounds tricky. Not so, say Oostendorp and Scott, who acknowledge that some jobs would be lost as part of their vision, but the payoff would be local manufacturers who are lean and profitable enough to survive and grow in the global market.

“The people who make things in factories would still be involved in the process,” Scott says. “What we’d see is more custom production. Manufacturers would have the ability to pivot quickly and change what they’re making according to the market.”

The other advantage to workers is that their system, they say, is open-source, meaning that anyone can learn the software and teach themselves skills that are highly transferable.

“Something we’re trying is running free classes in hacker spaces in Ann Arbor and New York,” Oostendorp says. “It makes the technology accessible, and we want to court the people who are experimenting with the software as a hobby.”

After successfully releasing version 1.2 of Simple CV a few months ago, Ingenuitas is now developing ServoHub, a social showcase for innovations in Machine Vision, Robotics, Sensors, and Control Systems, and Seer, which transforms any PC with a camera into a Network Managed Machine Vision appliance.

Ingenuitas is still in the process of writing the user’s manual for Simple CV, but right now, Oostendorp says, they’re collecting feedback on Simple CV’s deployment (“very positive”) and what the software is still missing, as well as meeting with local manufacturers to demo the product.

Oostendorp is a Michigan native; Scott is a University of Michigan graduate who has a lot of family living here. Both say they can’t imagine starting their company anywhere besides Southeast Michigan.

“If there’s a capital for U.S. manufacturing, it’s the midwestern region,”  Oostendorp says. “Michigan is the place to be in the manufacturing sector, and the story of Ingenuitas is very much a Michigan story.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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