When holographic reality tech company LEIA Inc. invited 16 computer science students to participate in an automotive hackathon last December, the startup looked forward to the results.
The students did not disappoint, delivering projects utilizing the company’s 3D technology in various capacities including car displays, speedometers, navigation and automation.
But the hackathon was extra meaningful for one Spartan: Daniel Geisler, ’17 Computer Science, is now a member of the company’s software development team.
“We saw that Daniel was very quick at figuring stuff out and working with the other students and teams, and he had a good technical background,” said LEIA Inc. Project Lead Loren Beyerstein. “We originally were hoping to hire several interns and it turned out that we decided that it was best to start out with one, and we’re hoping that we can bring in more in the future.”
Geisler joined the team in February as an intern, where he’s been working on improving the company’s 3GS technology, a 3D technology that runs in a user’s web browser, so its holographic technology can work smoothly on any platform including Mac, Windows or Android.
The company’s name reflects a scene from Star Wars IV when Luke finds an S.O.S. message from Leia. R2D2 displays the message in 3D. In 1977, this was science fiction. Today, it’s becoming reality.
“I’m trying to describe it more elegantly than just ‘awesome,’ but it is awesome,” Geisler said. “It’s really brand-new technology that is not out in the wild yet, so it’s really good to get first-hand experience before it’s out.”
Although Geisler has only been working with the company for a little over a month, Armand Niederberger, director of data science and algorithms at LEIA Inc., said his contributions are immeasurable.
“He helped build the LEIA Core Library when he first started,” Niederberger said. “In the beginning especially and still now, [he’s] very crucial to helping us get our code clean and to the next level, and to making sure it works with the latest software out there.”
Part of Geisler’s role entails translating the company’s code so it can be utilized on any platform on any computing environment, which can be a tedious task.
Geisler spends eight hours a day fishing through code and ensuring that LEIA Inc.’s animation demos run smoothly.
More recently, Geisler has utilized his prior videogame development experience in fine-tuning LEIA Inc.’s mesh animation, which is technology that is intended to mirror a human’s facial expression and duplicate it on a 3D-simulated character, or avatar.
“I literally just sit there tweaking some code and looking at it to see if it’s working right [by making facial expressions],” Geisler said.
The technology, which for now offers two avatar choices of either a monkey or a pixie-like character, is intended to one day provide users the opportunity to 3D holographic chat with other users.
“So you’ll be looking at someone else’s avatar, and they’re looking at your avatar, and you’re seeing their real-time face as the monkey, and you’ll be seeing theirs as whatever avatar they want,” Geisler said.
Debra Caires, Geisler’s computer science lecturer, said she is thrilled that her student has benefited from the opportunity to work with a Silicon Valley startup company in SJSU’s backyard and have a hand in developing emerging technology.
“[LEIA Inc.] didn’t view Daniel as merely a student. LEIA presented in the classroom during one of our Wednesday night tech talk events and was already looking at our students as professionals and individuals who have intellectual value,” Caires said. “These collaborations between students and startups [are] phenomenal opportunities.”
Geisler, who sometimes even dreams of finding solutions to 3D technology in his sleep, said his experience is beyond what can be taught in the classroom.
“It’s cool just to see a developer’s environment, like how people in the industry work, and to work with professional code that other developers are going to be using,” Geisler said. “I love to program, so [this is] forcing me to do what I love.”