Started Playing: Q1/2015
Joined the band: Q4/2017
We had the pleasure of interviewing the founders at Ladimo, Jouni Halme (CEO) and Jorma Palmén (CTO) after their 1+ year. Ladimo is on a mission to create smarter vision through sensor technology. Their idea is to produce accurate 3D - information in realtime from the surroundings more efficiently, accurately and affordably than ever before.
Icebreaker (IB): Hi guys! So, Ladimo is founded based on research?
Jouni: Yes, it all started with Jorma and his student friend Jussi Leveinen - a professor of geology at Aalto University. Then Matti Kurkela, a top-class researcher in 3D imagery technology joined along with some commercial knowledge.
IB: Right. Could you tell us a bit more where it all started?
Jouni: This project started back in 2012 based on Jorma’s innovation when he worked at Aalto University. He presented the idea to his wife at home and later on to his friends at Aalto University. The idea was an IPID project, in the beginning, funded by Aalto and Tekes, to waterproof the concept. After the proof of concept, a TUTLI -program was established at the beginning of 2014. Before 2015, I joined along to finally commercialize the researched idea. Ladimo was founded as a company in January 2015.
IB: Cool. Can you tell us more about your team?
Jouni: We have a history with Jorma from before. Otherwise, we use outsourced expertise. We’ve four advisors. Firstly we have Jyrki Saarinen, a professor of photonics and commercialization in the University of Eastern Finland. Then we have Jukka Viheriälä, docent of optoelectronics in the Tampere University of Technology, he is probably Finland’s best expert and advisor in laser technology. Thirdly, we have Jussi Leveinen, a professor for Master students in geology at Aalto University. As a fourth person on the advisory board, we have Tech. Lic. Matti Kurkela, a top researcher on the technical side of photography, who is now writing his doctoral thesis in 3D imagery and measurement.
Jorma: We have seven people on our team altogether, and four experts and doctoral students on an hourly basis. Our newest two recruits are Tatu and Mikko, specialists in embedded technologies and in parallel processing solutions. We need to follow-up on what’s happening on the front row of development. We also need docents who know what is happening in the science front because they can choose the most suitable components. They are important to us.
IB: Ok! You also have quite different backgrounds with Jorma?
Jouni: Yes. I, myself, came from a start-up in Tampere, where I was the CEO, but I wanted back to Helsinki because my family was here and I was interested in the idea Ladimo had. I saw a big potential there. It’s me and Jorma who are co-founders in this idea. I’m an engineer from Aalto and I also have a background in machine learning and automation. Still, I’ve been in sales and marketing all my life. I’ve also been a product manager around the world e.g. in the Philippines and UK. I came back to Finland from Japan in 2010 and wanted to try something new. That’s how I ended up at a start-up in Tampere and got to know one of our current advisors, Jukka Viheriälä.
IB: Ok. What would you say are the main differences between working for a corporation vs. working at a start-up?
Jouni: Even though I’ve been working for a big corporation, I’ve mostly been involved with the sales organization, which is quite small - about 20 employees. So, I am used to working in smaller teams. I noticed in Asia in several consulting businesses that our core business in Finland will never be mass-production. We need to really keep up our level and run faster in smaller markets in order to find our core business here.
IB: Jorma, you have a broad background in different sciences from Aalto University and you have been a teacher there as well?
Jorma: Yes. First I studied mathematics, then astronomy and then geology. I did my master’s thesis in commercial geology - pit processes & mineralogy. Then I did my Ph.D. for 3,5 years and transferred to Aalto (TKK) where I finally did my Lic.Tech. in engineering geology and applied geophysics. Then I started working and got to do versatile tasks as an expert, e.g. evaluations from a commercial perspective. After 10 years I realized that consultants are too busy to do their work well. But then again a researcher can’t predict if they have a full-time job tomorrow. So, I moved on since I couldn’t find an answer to this problem.
IB: Ok. Where did you end up next?
Jorma: I called my friend at Aalto, Jussi Leveinen, who was a professor there and asked if they had any teaching jobs available. I took an official leave of absence from my full-time job to teach at Aalto, which after I started at Aalto full-time. During my first year at Aalto, I thought that this is where I’ll work until I get retired, but that was not the end of the story after all.
IB: Interesting! But where did you get your knowledge for photogrammetry then?
Jorma: It all started when I was 12 and borrowed my father’s camera. I researched how it works and then I accidentally broke it. I taught myself to fix it and learned all about the different pieces at the same time. I got so interested that I applied for a summer job at a camera shop. I’d already learned quite a lot from my dad. So, it all basically started with a small amount of theory. Later on, I’ve tried to cherish this knowledge as a professional skill and studied optical theory and laser technologies.
IB: How do you apply this knowledge in your work then?
Jorma: I continuously think how a physical device and optical phenomenon works together and when new information is being told I try to complement my knowledge and conceptualize a model out of it. These kind of combinations are familiar to me since I’ve been doing product development for three years. I also learned programming and error tracking when working as a systems analyst.
IB: How about your product?
Jouni: Our developed product was actually quite big and heavy in the beginning. Currently, we're in the middle of a miniaturization program, and we've reached the first development stage “Ladimo mini”, which is specially designed for robotics applications and AGV. The product consists of a camera and a laser, which can be implemented into different objects.
Jorma is now working on our next model, which will be much smaller (about the size of an eyeglass case). Since we need a specifically defined laser, a miniature model with different wattage and strengths, we met with at least with 7-8 laser suppliers at a fair in San Francisco in January. We have also implemented the software to this miniature version and tested it. Now we are ready to introduce the next prototype to our piloting OEM customers.
We are now aiming to scale-up and pursue volume. We need a partner with experience in the field, e.g. a trusted mobile camera supplier, since they have skills in image processing.
IB: What needs to be done before launching the miniature version?
Jouni: We still need to develop our laser technology with some of our suppliers. We also need the patent for our mathematical model. We have the software for this product, which is actually our core business. The miniaturization program is our long-term goal for the next 1-2 years.
IB: Alright. How has the support of IB helped you out?
Jouni: It has made a big difference. We wouldn’t be able to develop our next step otherwise. We have now acquired an optic table to our lab. We have also acquired several lasers and they are not cheap. We have recruited two more employees even. We operate in a hot area, so if we’re not able to accelerate we just getting in the way of other competitors. That’s why we already have 2-3 recruits in mind if we get to the next step. This all would not be possible without the support of IB. That’s 100 % sure.
IB: Your patent process has been pending since 2013. How long does this process usually take?
Jouni: It’s usually a 3-year process. There is also a company in Israel that is similar to ours and is already launched, which Jorma has now later on noticed. That’s why the process is now longer than usual. Many questions must be answered along the way before final decisions on our patent can be made.
IB: That’s true. So, what are your biggest challenges at the moment?
Jouni: The speed. We want to be able to do this properly to go forward. Currently, we’re able to do business in a parallel. We have more resources and opportunities in the laser business to invest in. The next step is deeper collaboration and commitment with different laser firms. We also know now which corporate ventures to co-work with, and negotiations for a A-round funding have started.
IB: This service can be applied to several industries. But where do you see Ladimo’s focus?
Jouni: That’s right. It’s still a challenge for us, but that’s what we are trying to find out. Our strength is extreme real-time sub-millimeter accuracy, which none of our competitors can provide. It is the same thing with the measurement distance, which is currently over 20 meters, and in direct sunlight. the measurement gets better in moving platforms, which is opposite to the competition. Then we’re able to come down in pricing quite radically. The important thing to remember is that there’ll be more than one sensor needed with different features in the future. At the moment our focus industry is probably robotics. But we’ll see what happens after we get the miniature prototype launched – then it’ll be easier to manage.
IB: The growth of the robotics industry might be an advantage for you as well?
Jouni: Definitely. We’ve met all of the seven largest suppliers in this industry and discussed the challenges. The ROI on this business is how well the robot saves time and money. In the future, we can discuss collaborative robots that have learned to communicate with people on some level, for example in elderly homes. The need for robotics is in sight in every industry, about 30%.
IB: Great! Where does the name LADIMO come from?
Jorma: It is shortened from three words, LA-DI-MO. Laser, diffraction, and mono - photogrammetry. We needed to differentiate that we only have one camera and a photograph taken. But we also have a virtual camera. We guide the regularity of the photographs with our developed model. This has remained an unsolved problem for a long time. But by finding the dots we have a solution at hand here.