PODCAST: How game-changing geospatial technology is shaping the modern military – and delivering business growth

How game-changing geospatial technology is shaping the modern military – and delivering business growth

Innovation has always offered tactical advantages on the battlefield and the emergence of geospatial technology has fundamentally changed modern warfare.

In this episode of the Defence Connect Podcast Amir Farhand, CEO and founder of start-up the Takor Group, offers his insights into the advantages of geospatial technology on the modern battlefield and how forward-thinking military units are rushing to equip their soldiers, sailors and airmen with this game-changing resource.

And it’s just the beginning. Applications of geospatial technologies are evolving at a rapid pace. Tune in to hear how the Takor Group is driving the marriage of geospatial technology with the military, how they’ve cracked the US supply chain and ambitions for an ASX listing in the near future.

Enjoy the podcast,

The Defence Connect team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Well, g'day, everyone. It's Phil Tarrant here. I'm the host of the Defence Connect Podcast. Thanks for joining us today. Gonna have an interesting chat. We're gonna go a bit techy and I don't mind going techy, I think the changing nature of warfare and how war-fighters are armed and equipped to do what they need to do on the ground and in the air or on the sea is evolving rapidly and I think technology's always given advantages to war fighters from World War 1 to World War 2, to our present day. Technology's what's forging the way in which we fight, and it's forging the way in which our soldiers can best deliver the outcomes that they want to deliver.

 

 

On that base, I've got a tech start-up in today. Someone who's been on a bit of a journey, not only with the Australian Government, but more in particular with the U.S. Military in providing or quipping them with some really smart technology which is really gonna change the way in which their guys on the ground can operate.

 

 

I have Amir Farhand in the studio, he's the Managing Director of a company called Takor Group. How you going Amir?

 

Amir Farhand:

Good thank you. Thank you for having me.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, we spoke really quickly off air and I disclosed that my knowledge around geospatial technology is limited to probably looking up houses on Google maps or Google Earth, and, probably, that's most people's paradigm.

 

Amir Farhand:

It's the first place people start.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

It is. So, can you just give me a bit of an idea about your business, what you do, and really the application that you've created and it's context within the Military framework?

 

Amir Farhand:

Okay, well, one of the things I just want to take you back on is where you just said you look at your own house on Google Earth, for example. That's where most people think geospatial technology is, you know, Google maps and Google Earth.

 

 

But the funny thing is that it's much bigger than that. And the applications and what can happen on your mobile phone hasn't actually really been ratified. Only, you know, recently in the last two or three years it's actually taking on a new form. And I guess that's all changing. Because, in the past, in our industry at least, you need a lot of computing power to process data, to view data, to share data. So, with the advent of cellular networks, WiFi, faster processors. What we've done is, we've actually come in and we've said, Okay, we've got this legacy technology which is desktop solutions. And we've just figured out a way using our platform as our engine, an engine called Koomba, changing that and putting that leveraging on existing consumer electronic devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

 

 

So we've, I guess, changed that paradigm shift in the way people would view, share, and analyse that data out in the field. That's been the pivot of our technology base and that's what we're here for.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, what I want to get out of today for our listeners and myself personally, because I'm quite interested in this, is how ... I guess the speed in which the Military ... the Military is typically the incubator or the creator of most sophisticated technology, which then ...

 

Amir Farhand:

Sure, innovation, yeah.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

... the innovation, which then ends up in the hands of consumers, GPS for example. But this is a bit of a flip on it, so you guys are using some latest tech and trying to push that back into Military and changing the way in which its used on the ground, in the air, and in the sea. So, you mentioned before we came on air, that you've just spent a couple of weeks in the U.S. on, I won't disclose where you have been or which state you've been in, but you spent a couple of weeks there working with the guys in terms of embedding this technology of yours into some of the services over there.

 

 

How've you found that experience? Has it been a good one? Have they been quite open and progressive?

 

Amir Farhand:

Extremely open, extremely innovative, willing to take risks in order to get the best product. The American war-fighter is probably different to any other war-fighter in the world. I think the only other war-fighters that I've had experience with which come even close to the innovation level is probably the Israelis, the Israeli Defence Force, and obviously the crème-de-la-crème, you know, always rises to the top. They're willing to test everything and anything to get their guys to be at the forefront of technology.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, what you've created, how are they using it?

 

Amir Farhand:

Well, I can go back to an interesting ... so, our product that actually manifested all of this is a product called 'Mappt', which is actually a consumer-based mapping application. We call it Google Earth on steroids. It works on android mobile phones and tablets, and the reason why we decided to go for android, just want to get that out of the way, is because of security considerations on android devices versus iOS. And we were going for, we wanted a product which would push into the enterprise level very quickly. So we decided to start with android.

 

 

But we're actually in the U.S. two, two and a half years ago at a Military conference and, to be honest with you, we went into this Military conference in order to gather intel to see what is the industry about. No one in our company has got a Military background.

 

 

Then one day, out the front of our booth, I think it was on the second day, this soldier walks past and he sort of looks at our banner and he goes, "Hey. I've used your product." We said, "What? How have you used our product?" And he goes, "Oh. I downloaded your product on my Samsung android phone. And we were taking photos of suspected IED areas in Northern Iraq." So, we obviously had a bit of a chuckle, we said is this guy taking the mickey or whatever. But, you know, he did actually end up using it for that. He was using his mobile phone.

 

 

So, these guys were, you know the sub-contractors were using it, the soldiers themselves were using it. In a very non-tactical way at that moment. And he introduced us to his Colonel, and from there we started our journey towards the U.S. Military. Because, he was trying to do something which previously was very, very hard to do, or fragmented. He would have needed a separate device to view satellite imagery, for example. He would have needed another camera, for example, to take the photo of the suspected IED area. And then he would have needed a separate GPS unit on top of that as well.

 

 

What happened was, was that just by leveraging the power of his mobile phone, he could do all those three things. And that's the power that we're trying to get into the U.S. Military, and in fact all our consumer base at the moment.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, the work you're doing with the U.S. Military now, how much can you tell us about that?

 

Amir Farhand:

Well, what we're trying to do is, I guess this comes in two stages. The first stage is we're trying to impregnate the war-fighters to understand exactly what the applications that they need, mapping technology, out in the field. That's non, I guess, wartime situation.  So for training, for example. Or education. Then the second stage is actually building a tactical wartime fighting response. So, we're going directly for their use out in the field. In probably, I reckon, the next year, year and a half. We want our technology to be with them as part of their checkbox, "Yep. I've got this. I've got that." Either as a redundancy product, or you could say as a legacy product, which they can have. But also as an innovative product which, for example, their live drone imagery can go into.

 

 

And these are some of the things that we're innovating very, very quickly.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, what is the true application? So, what can this do outside of me just sitting there looking up Google maps thinking, well here's an area or et cetera.

 

Amir Farhand:

One of the cool things about it is that, like I said, in a ... I guess we're on a podcast so you can't actually see the imagery being used, but, imagine you're walking around with a mobile phone. You take a photo of a suspected IED area, or an area where you think there's a  landmine, or a perimeter fence which needs to be fixed. Traditionally you'd just take a photo of that, and you'd have to connect it to different types of security and send it. What we do is, you take that photo, it remembers exactly where the GPS location was. But what you can do is on top of that photo you can add all types of data, kind of like a Snapchat, you can actually use your finger to draw exactly what is going on, on that photo that you took.

 

 

Behind that photo, you can put all sorts of very, very critical data, which is highly secure into that photo. And the last bit of the puzzle is sharing that. So where does it go to? In an environment, in a wartime situation, connectivity is a massive issue. What if there is no connection? What do you do with that data? You need to get it out there. So, what our product does is it goes beyond that. It allows people to leverage either what we call 'micro-communication' areas or macro. So, I'm talking cellular network versus couple of Humvees talking to each other. That's one example.

 

 

Another example is situational awareness. You're playing a computer game, if you guys remember when in the bottom left hand corner normally, you know you're playing your DOOM or something, you can see where the other players are as green dots and you can see the enemy as red dots. Well, in real life unfortunately you can't see the enemy as red dots. However, what our product can do is you can actually see other war-fighters on your screen. So, you know, you open the map to Military and inside it you'll be able to see, "Oh, look at that. There's all these green men running around, or these green dots. They're friendlies." And in a situational awareness situation, they can take photos. They can annotate out in the field, they can collect information, and they can disseminate that information and share it. Either in a closed group, or to everybody. Live.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

And the guys, and girls, in the U.S. Military are using this right now. Do they trust it? Are they sceptical about it all?

 

Amir Farhand:

It's a really good question. Look, it took us a year and half to build the correct infrastructure and the encryption for the U.S. Military guys to even test it.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Okay.

 

Amir Farhand:

That took a long time. And I guess for us it was big risk, because a year, a year and a half of development is actually a long time in any company. Because you're not getting any revenue go either way, its 50/50. But we managed to pass that with flying colours, which is great coming from an Australian company. And also then you've gotta get security vetted, so the staff needs to be vetted as well. Which is a big, big factor.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

And now it's gone through the testing phase for the U.S. Military?

 

Amir Farhand:

Yes.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Has it been deployed in the field yet?

 

Amir Farhand:

Yes. We've got a couple of units already using it. And I just want to state that these are not testing units, these are actual field users of the product. The next step for us is actually deploying it to more units. So, we've got Army units using it, and we've got Marine units using it as well.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Okay. And, I guess the feedback's been good?

 

Amir Farhand:

It's been extremely good. I just got back only two days ago, or three days ago, from the United States and one of the guys, the Majors, turned around to me and said most of, pretty much everyone, all the Marines at the Marine bases, they're all millennials, they're the new-age war-fighter if you like, they're used to Snapchat, they're used to Facebook messenger, they're used to all these Instagram-y sort of things. Our product leverages on the workflow that these other products use, so you do not need weeks and weeks of training to use it. You can download it, and boom.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

It's intuitive, these guys know how to use it without really training.

 

Amir Farhand:

Exactly. And one of the testimonials which we've got so far is, this is making me get my tactical data out in the field in such a quick way, that I couldn't do before. It's effectively gamifying what I already, without any training, what should be doing out in the field with this product, as Google Earth on steroids.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Most Aussie defence businesses that I chat to, often lament about the challenges in cracking the U.S. Defence supply chain. Would you say your experience has been a good one? Or has it been a challenging one?

 

Amir Farhand:

Our one, initially, was very challenging from a technical and an encryption point of view, in making sure that our product doesn't fail out in a situation that is a wartime situation. But, honestly I'd have to say, it hasn't been nowhere near as difficult as dealing with other nations. Even Australia.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, you guys right now are going through an IPA, right? You guys are looking for a big injection of cash and a listing on the ASX. How's that been? Are you sort of well-subscribed?

 

Amir Farhand:

Yeah, look, I mean we've got a close-out period that's coming out soon. But everything's going so well. I mean, I've just been overseas just pushing it 'cause I want to concentrate on building a great business. I want to, when people think of top-end mapping geospatial company, I want them to think Takor. And people don't know this but Google maps is from Australia, it's from Sydney. People don't know about it at all.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

It's one of our top ever ... 'cause I remember the other day I was at a pub with another bloke and we were looking at the best Aussie innovations, ones like the Hills hoist, and it could've been Kiwi, but all this like WiFi, all Aussie. And Google maps is one of the top ever Australian innovations.

 

Amir Farhand:

I think unfortunately, the problem that we've got is we think if it's from Australia it can't be as good as some tech kid coming out of silicon valley. Surely, his one is better than ours. Or some FinTech high-security product coming out of Israel's gotta be better than ours.

 

 

Look, we've got some incredibly smart people. And one of the things is, I mean, we're from Perth but Perth is known for its mining and oil and gas industry. We come out, the genesis of our technology is from the mining and gas and mineral industry.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So like exploration. 

 

Amir Farhand:

Exploration.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So you guys would say, "Here's a mapping, hey this looks like a place where we would expect to find 'X'."

 

Amir Farhand:

Exactly. And we were doing that using satellite imagery to find iron ore. I mean, this is how it happened. We were out there, I mean, the GFC happened in the middle of when we were trying to launch this company. Back in those days. And what happened was, I mean, I was going out in the field with satellite imagery, and I was going out there with a handheld GPS, and all these other gadgets. And I'm saying to myself, why do I need all these different gadgets when I could just leverage my mobile phone, or my tablet. And that's how we started. But that's why, because there's so many smart people working in these industries in Australia. We just have to find a way to get those innovation.

Phillip Tarrant:

So you think we're punching toe-to-toe with any other tech-orientated business?

 

Amir Farhand:

If not better. If not better. I mean, one of the great things about Australians is that, I think, we're innovative and we're very casual about it. So we can think quite logically. We can go, "Oh yeah. Well that's not gonna work let's try something else." Whereas in other companies, due to cultural pretexts, they go, "Well, should we pivot? Are we gonna lose face if we pivot?"

 

Phillip Tarrant:

I think we do it organically, and what we've always done as a nation. We've always shifted and moved based on the environment that we work within.

 

Amir Farhand:

Brilliant.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

And let's be fair, you know, it's a ... the guys that sort of started off in Australia early on needed to pivot all the time. Obviously, it wasn't called a pivot back then, it was just called gettin' it done.

 

Amir Farhand:

They had another buzzword.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Yeah, so you guys are looking to raise about eight million bucks on a market listing. What do you intend to do with all that cash?

 

Amir Farhand:

Look, the six to eight million raised, what we're trying to do is, we're trying to use that money to 'A' build a, we need a permanent presence in the U.S. that's one of the things that we have to ... 'cause  the time difference and the tyranny of distance is a big issue for us.

 

 

But the second thing is, we really want to just market the hell out of this product. Both from a consumer level, Mappt as a product, but also other products which we've got coming up over the horizon that relate to drone technology, for example. We've got some really cool drone technology coming out. And that's not, we're not building any drones, but we're building very, very intuitive software that does some incredible cool things with drones. And we want to integrate that.

 

 

To take that money, we need to be able to market it, to build an audience. And that's very, very hard from Australia.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Have you secured any signed contracts from the U.S. Military yet?

 

Amir Farhand:

Yeah. Well, we're currently selling to the U.S. Military at the moment.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Okay, so contract in place? You're making money?

 

Amir Farhand:

Yep. So it took us about, like I said, a year, year and a half. In the last six to seven weeks, we've started, you know, they're using the product now. So we've got units in the Marines and Army that are using the product.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So now that you've cracked the U.S. Military, can you scale that pretty quickly?

 

Amir Farhand:

Definitely.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So how do you influence the people within the U.S. Military so you can scale that product? So, if you say, "I want to get this into as many units as possible." How do you influence or massage that?

 

Amir Farhand:

Look, that's another very good question. I think the U.S. Military, the procurement process is two-fold. There us the tender processes we have here in Australia, that does exist, which is very, very difficult. But what we're trying to do is, we're trying to go to people and say, "Look this product is so much better than what you've already got." When people see it and they go, "Wow. This is so much better than what I've got." They build the reasoning to have it themselves. So we sort of jump a few hoops when it gets to that.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So you put top down rather than the other way.

 

Amir Farhand:

Yeah, exactly. Yep.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, create the desire, create the demand at the top end and it should flow through?

 

Amir Farhand:

And that's where the marketing comes in. If people don't know about the product, where's the demand gonna rise from?

 

 

And that's why we need the cash.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So lets have a chat about our idea for a local procurement process. How have you found dealing with the Aussie Government? 'Cause there's a lot of people within government who listen to this, so ...

 

Amir Farhand:

Well look, I think the word is probably 'difficult'.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Okay?

 

Amir Farhand:

Okay. There seems to be this chip on people's shoulders that if it's Australian it can't be good. I don't know why. And they put this red tape in place that is designed to make you conform to the exact requirement which they need. Whereas, the world is moving so quickly. What you need may change in six months time. I mean, we've got the situation in Syria and North Korea and all these things happening at the moment. If these things change, unfortunately, we're so restricted in the Australian Defence procurement system that ... how you're gonna get out of it? To build a product to be truly innovative for the war-fighter.

 

 

And I just wish that they would have, I guess, sections that were business units, if you like, for lack of a better word, that were basically going around hunting for truly innovative companies that can change how they do things. Rather than building these very, very long-winded procurement systems. Which sometimes take months for you to wite a tender, and you probably lose it anyway, to a company which has been supplying them for the last 30 years.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Have you connected into any of the sort of hubs that have been created by the CAS Group recently, say the CDIC, or any of these other bodies which assist organisations like yours connect into defence supply chain?

 

Amir Farhand:

Unfortunately we haven't. We saw the low-hanging fruit, I guess, if you like, of the U.S. Military and we went to it straight away.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Which makes business sense.

 

Amir Farhand:

Yeah, I mean, we're a small company. At the time when that was happening we were even smaller, and we only had a very, very small bandwidth of chasing these things up.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, if you could put your technology in the hands of anyone within the Australian Army, who would want to look at it do you think?

 

Amir Farhand:

In terms of actual users, definitely the soldiers. The guys and girls that are out in the field using it in the Australian Army would be the number one person that I would go to straight away.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Okay. And these are the guys who could probably see the application how it will enhance the way they go about their roles.

 

Amir Farhand:

Exactly. Because everyone has got a mobile phone. Everyone's got access to these other apps, if you like, and they've seen it used. If, you know, they know how to catch an Uber, that uses maps. It's a similar sort of thing.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

It's pretty straightforward. So how did you end up doing this? What's the backstory? Are you a tech guy?

 

Amir Farhand:

Yeah, well, I'm actually ... my formal training is I'm a geomorphologist, you know, involved in analysing satellite imagery to find gold, iron ore, that kind of thing, you know, landforms. But, as I said, when the GFC hit we had to pivot really quickly. 'Cause I saw the writing on the wall. And what was really interesting was that, I think it was in mid-2000, just before the iPhone was released, when Google Earth and Google maps was released. I remember, as soon as it was released, everyone just zoomed it straight into their own house, like you said before. Then they went to some landmark. And from there they looked at other places in the world.

 

 

When I saw this, I go, when this becomes available on a mobile phone, game, set, match. It's going to change everything.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, are you guys reliant on Google Earth, Google maps ... 

 

Amir Farhand:

Absolutely not.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So, where do you get all your satellite imagery from?

 

Amir Farhand:

We are completely agnostic and independent. If you want high-resolution, I'm talking one centimetre drone imagery, from your own military drone or your domestic drone, use that by all means. We've got clients in Mongolia that refuse to use Google maps and Google Earth, they want their own product out there. They want their own base map layer. We're a platform. We don't care where the data comes from, we care about what sits on that platform.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

So you can aggregate anything and synthesise it as required?

 

Amir Farhand:

Exactly.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Okay.

 

Amir Farhand:

And there's the three parameters: your viewing of your data, your sharing of that data, and your analysis of that data. And we've found a way, using our Koomba platform, to disseminate that completely independently. We are in no way competition to Google in any way, we are a conduit to Google. I mean, in the consumer world for example, with Mappt as a product by itself, people share to Google. They can share to SMS, they can share to a cloud for example, or Dropbox, or Google Drive. We don't have a problem with that. We're just a platform.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

That's really interesting. So, what about on a relief basis, or even border protection type applications, I imagine there's quite a lot for that as well?

 

Amir Farhand:

Definitely. Look, one of the things that we've started exploring, we've done a project with Doctors Without Borders, about two, two and a half years ago, in West Africa for the Ebola outbreak. Some doctors were downloading Mappt, and what they were doing was, they were creating geo-fences around villages that were infected and they were simply putting the mobile phone in their pocket and walking around the whole day. Now if they impregnated those geo-fences it would make an alarm. But sometimes they needed to go into these infected villages, so the product would log exactly when they went in, what they did when they were inside, and when they came out. And that's very, very crucial for border protection, because you can set up these geo-fence areas along a border, for example. And you can identify exactly what's going on in terms of troop deployments, but also for cross-border smuggling and stuff like that.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

It's really interesting stuff. Appreciate you coming in Amir, I really enjoyed that chat. Good luck with the listing. I know there's quite a lot of rigour involved.

 

Amir Farhand:

There is a lot, yeah.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Enjoy the process. But how are you finding your conversation with potential investors? Are you mainly going, sort of 'insta' [institutional] or you going sort of... 

 

Amir Farhand:

We're for a little bit of both. Retail and institutional. But obviously to any successful IPA you want to have an institutional cornerstone or backing in order to get the funds in. But look, its exciting times ahead and I'm just a very, very proud Australian to get a product which is from Australia out into the world. I'm just humbled every day when I wake up in the morning, to be able to work in this space.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

It's a great attitude, you know. It's what works well. And if anyone wants to learn more about, is it, Mappt Military, is it?

 

Amir Farhand:

Yep. Mappt Military.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

How do they check it out?

 

Amir Farhand:

So, they just go to mapptmilitary.com. Mappt by itself is mappt.com.au, that's the consumer product, but they can always reach out to us and we can have a conversation with them.

 

Phillip Tarrant:

Good. If you've got any questions for Amir, I'm sure you can track him down online, but you can send them through to the team here and we'll connect you guys, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

Thanks for tuning in today, it's always good.

 

 

Remember to check out defenceconnect.com.au for all the latest market intel in the defence industry, we're on all the social platforms, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. You can follow me on Twitter if you like @philliptarrant, and please keep those reviews coming on iTunes, really do appreciate them and we just want to keep driving ahead with this podcast and getting out to as many people as possible. So we'll see you again next week, until then, bye-bye.

 

 

 

 

Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:

Episode 34: PODCAST: Making a technical contribution to Australia’s defence force – Ian Irving, Northrop Grumman
Episode 33: PODCAST: Cracking the international supply chain – Andrew Sanderson, TAE Aerospace
Episode 32: PODCAST: Maximising Australia’s defence potential – Richard Marles, opposition defence spokesman
Episode 31: PODCAST: Championing local talent in defence – Peter Freed, Cirrus Real Time Processing Systems
Episode 30: PODCAST: Engaging primes as an SME – Stephen Renkert, Electrotech
Episode 29: PODCAST: Driving innovation in defence - Stephane Ibos, Maestrano
Episode 28: PODCAST: Manufacturing Australia's future – Jens Goennemann, AMGC
Episode 27: PODCAST: Brave new world – the ever-evolving defence technology sector
Episode 26: PODCAST: Going global with SMEs
Episode 25: PODCAST: Shaping Victoria’s defence industry

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