Gainesville Tech Startup Paracosm Receives $3.3 Million In Seed Funding

By on November 21st, 2014 | Last updated: November 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm
Anna Williams plays with the Oculus, a virtual reality headset that can be used for gaming with Paracosm’s 3D technology on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 at their downtown office on SW 4th Ave.

Kai Su / WUFT News

Anna Williams plays with the Oculus, a virtual reality headset that can be used for gaming with Paracosm’s 3D technology on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 at their downtown office on SW 4th Ave.

The Paracosm office wall displays a colorful array of parakeet-themed art — a detailed watercolor painting, an Angry Bird-esque cartoon, a photograph of a parakeet with a house cat.

Their logo, a parakeet cosmonaut, is derived from the startup’s name, a detailed imaginary world created in one’s mind.

Paracosm’s small team of about 17 engineers and designers work to blur the lines between the physical and virtual worlds using 3D mapping technology. They have developed software to turn flat images into 3D shapes. This month, the company secured $3.3 million in seed funding to further develop that software.

The local startup got its name when co-founder, and University of Florida alumnus, Amir Rubin came across a “word of the day” online, said Anna Williams, one of Paracosm’s five co-founders.

Williams said in the past, Paracosm received funding from the “friends, family and fools” around, which included angel investors, affluent individuals who privately invest in startups. However, this most recent round of funding included bigger names.

“It was bigger people — we had to convince them,” Williams, 29, said. “You had to go and pitch to them and say, ‘Here’s what we have. Here’s what we’re going to make. Here’s why it’s going to make money.’”

Atlas Venture led the seed round, with contributions from iRobot, Osage University Partners, BOLDstart Ventures, New World Angels and Deep Fork Capital. Tim Komada, founder of early stage venture capital firm Deep Fork Capital, said he found out about Paracosm through Atlas Venture.

“This was a company that seemed to have really cutting edge, unique technology from what I’d seen versus other players in the marketplace,” Komada said.

Williams said Paracosm’s technology allows devices to have a 3D understanding of the world, and then localize the device in the space, creating a deep augmented reality. Applications of this technology are vast, including robots that can maneuver the halls of a hospital to video games in which you wear a headset that creates a virtual reality.

“You could play hide and seek with your friend in your house, but it’s a bit harder,” Williams said. “They could leave a fake echo, or there could be a fake version of themselves running around.”

Paracosm employee Quinn Martin said the company will use the funding to transition into the next stages of development.

“We’re going to build out the team more and build up our technology to a really viable product,” Martin said.

Paracosm is not quite at the point of releasing its technology, but it’s not far off. Williams said people could use their technology, but they might not yet understand how to apply it.

“Part of the reason we needed funding was to make it to the glorious future when those devices are out there,” she said. “Most developers are developing for devices that exist — they’re not waiting to develop for devices that don’t exist yet because they could be making money today.”

Williams said the next step is what’s called “shared human-machine perception.”

“We understand what the world is because we live in it,” she said. “We want our devices and the apps on those devices to understand the world we live in.”

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County Commission Votes on Sheriff’s Office’s Request for Additional Funds

By on November 21st, 2014 | Last updated: November 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm
The Alachua County Sheriff's Office came before the board to request additional funds at the county commission meeting Tuesday. A motion to allocate $500,000 in capital outlay was passed 4-1.

Katelin Mariner / WUFT News

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office came before the board to request additional funds at the county commission meeting Tuesday. A motion to allocate $500,000 in capital outlay was passed 4-1.

Alachua County Commission Chair Charles Chestnut banged his gavel as emotions ran high at the commision meeting Tuesday evening.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s office came before the board to ask for a total of $970,000. Of that amount, $500,000 was requested for replacement vehicles, and the remaining was intended for a three percent salary increase.

Commissioners Lee Pinkoson and Mike Byerly were involved in a heated discussion regarding the allocation.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell asked for the money after pointing out that every other county representative, excluding jail employees, had received a three percent pay raise. Darnell said she felt it was hugely unjust to exclude officers from additional pay. 

“They do not deserve this lack of respect from the commission,” Darnell said. “I’ll stay here tonight until we have this discussion publicly and honestly.”

Deputy Tommy Willcox, of the ACSO K-9 unit, openly spoke about his family’s need for an increase in his pay.

Willcox said he and his wife are not in public service positions for the money. They do it because they are passionate about people. Willcox and his wife take in foster children in addition to raising their three biological children.

“Think about our children, our families and our lives,” he said.

Although some members of the board were sympathetic to the cause, not all commissioners agreed with Willcox’s stance.

Byerly did not find it appropriate to allocate additional funds after the sheriff’s office had spent the previously allocated funds on K-9 units, vest and weapon replacements, increased utilities and software upgrades. Byerly said it is Darnell’s responsibility to decide how the budget is spent. She can increase pay whenever she feels necessary. 

“The county commission does not give or take away pay raises to county officers,” he said.

Chief Deputy Colonel David Huckstep of ACSO said the agency has cut down on spending as much as possible.   

“We have tightened up,” Huckstep said. “We have nowhere else to turn.”

Ultimately, a motion to allocate $500,000 to Sheriff Capital Outlay — in this case, for patrol vehicles — was passed 4-1, with Byerly as the single vote against. 

However, the second motion to allocate $332,000 was denied.

Overall, Darnell was not happy about the meeting’s outcome.

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “I do, overall, believe because of Commissioner Cornell on board, a new county manager coming on board and also the fairly new OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Director Tommy Crosby, it’s a new day and a new opportunity.”

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Nov. 11, 2014: Afternoon News in 90

By on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Jacob Schrull produced this update.

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In The News: Tampa Airport Expansion Breaks Ground, Muschamp Plans To Coach Again, Gas Station Robberies Possibly Connected, County Commisioner Resigns From Run

By on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm
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Police Identify Shooter as FSU Alumnus

By on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 12:15 pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The gunman who shot three people at Florida State University’s library early Thursday before being killed by police was a lawyer who graduated from the school, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

The official said the shooter was Myron May, who graduated from Florida State before attending Texas Tech University’s law school. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the name.

May was fatally shot early Thursday after he shot three people at the Florida State library. Two are hospitalized and one has been released.

Abigail Taunton, who runs a foster home in the Florida Panhandle, told the AP that May had recently been staying at a guest house she owns. She said police interviewed her husband, David, after the shooting.

The shooting happened about 12:30 a.m., sending hundreds of students who had been up all night studying for exams scrambling for cover in the book aisles and barricading themselves in with desks. Three students were wounded before police killed the gunman in a shootout, authorities said.

Police and FSU officials called the shooting an “isolated incident,” but have not released many details, including how far May made it into Strozier Library. FSU’s compact campus is located less than a mile from downtown Tallahassee and the state Capitol.

“This person just for whatever reason produced a handgun and then began shooting students in the library,” FSU Police Chief David Perry said.

Students inside the multistory library heard about half a dozen gunshots. Students began screaming that someone was shooting at them and flipped over chairs in their race to take cover.

“I ran for my life,” said Allison Kope, a freshman from Cocoa Beach, who was on the library’s first floor. “I ran right out the backdoor. My laptop and everything is still in there. It was shock. It was just instinct. You don’t think about anything else, you just go.”

Other students hid in the book aisles and some barricaded themselves in rooms.

Sarah Evans, a senior from Miami, said she was inside the library and heard a male student say he had been shot. When she looked at him, he was on the ground with blood spreading on his pants leg.

Two of the victims were taken to a local hospital. FSU officials said a third student was only grazed by a bullet and was treated at the scene and released.

Tallahassee and Florida State University police confronted the gunman just outside the library that sits in the middle of the campus and ordered him to drop his handgun, but he fired a shot at them and they unleashed a volley of shots, Tallahassee Police spokesman Dave Northway said.

Hours after the shooting, detectives could be seen inspecting the body of May, who was lying face down at the top of an access ramp just outside the library. A baseball cap lay nearby.

The shooting prompted a campus alert that urged students to take shelter and stay away from doors and windows. After the shooting, FSU officials announced classes would be canceled for Thursday.

Daniel Morales, a 19-year-old freshman from Fort Pierce who was in the library during the attack, said that when he first heard someone say “somebody’s got a gun. I thought he was joking.” But after realizing there was a gunman in the library, Morales and others raced to a back room on the second floor where they barricaded a door with desks.

Freshman Nikolai Hernandez said he was in his dorm room across from the library when he heard five or six rapid gunshots.

“It was a consecutive bop, bop, bop, bop, bop,” Hernandez said. “It makes me definitely a little bit nervous. I was supposed to be in the library. I had a paper to do and I got a little bit lazy and decided not to do it.”

Florida State President John Thrasher, who took office earlier this month, said by phone that he was in New York City at the time of the shooting. He said he was scheduled to return to Tallahassee later Thursday.

Associated Press writer Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.

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Construction On Main Street Causes Inconvenience

By on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 21, 2014 at 10:59 am
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Gainesville High School Receives Two Additional, Identical Bomb Threats

By and on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 11:15 am

Update, Nov. 20: Gainesville High School received two phone calls Thursday morning almost identical to Wednesday’s threat, according to a release from Alachua County Public Schools spokeswoman Jackie Johnson.

“We have been in consultation with GPD,” Johnson wrote, ”and this is not considered an active threat.”

Nothing was found during a visual search of the campus. GHS is operating normally, and the campus has not been evacuated.

Parents have been contacted via email and text messaging. Anyone with more information is asked to report it immediately.

Original Post: Gainesville High School evacuated Wednesday after a bomb threat was called into the school’s main line.

At 12:09 p.m., a secretary answered a call that appeared to be from a juvenile.  The caller said “bomb threat” and hung up before any questions could be asked.

As a precaution, Gainesville Police Department and Alachua County School Board personnel safely evacuated the 1,900 students and staff to the nearby Planet Fitness parking lot until a complete sweep of the school could be done.

Gainesville Police borrowed three certified bomb-sniffing canines from University of Florida Police Department and one from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office to help clear the campus room-by-room.

Parents were notified by the school board via an automated phone call and given the option to pick their students up from the Planet Fitness parking lot.

Parents of Gainesville High School students line up at Planet Fitness to pick up their students after a bomb threat. Students and staff were evacuated from GHS after a threat was called in around noon.

Morgan Frazier / WUFT News

Parents of Gainesville High School students line up at Planet Fitness to pick up their students after a bomb threat. Students and staff were evacuated from GHS after a threat was called in around noon.

Beatrice Flagg, a grandmother of an 11th grade GHS student, said her grandson called her to say he could be picked up.

“With all the things that are happening at the schools nowadays, I was very concerned,” Flagg said. “My grandkids are my heart.”

As of school dismissal time at 2 p.m., no students were allowed in the buildings and no cars were allowed to enter campus. Students who drove to campus were allowed to pick up their cars from the parking lot and bus riders were picked up from the bus loop.

Kelly Serrano, a 10th grade student, was in class when an announcement was made that they had to evacuate the school. She said she was scared and did not know what would happen.

GPD spokesman, Officer Ben Tobias, said that after the department searches every room and confirms there is nothing in the school, they will work backwards to identify who called the threat in.

“We’ve been pretty lucking with not having too many (bomb threats this past year),” Tobias said.

An “all clear” was announced via email at 3:32 p.m. Information on the suspect is still unknown.

GPD’s investigators are working to identify the caller, Tobias said.

“We have to work very closely with the telephone company,” Tobias said. “[We'll] try to backtrack where the call came from and if we’re able to identify that person then they will definitely be charged.”

Going forward, the high school will be monitored more closely.

“We have school resource officers assigned at the high school anyway,” Tobias said. “They will just make sure they’re keeping an extra watch on the school.”

Morgan Frazier and Kyle Follansbee contributed to this report.

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Nov. 20, 2014: Morning News In 90

By on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 10:27 am

Edwin Exaus produced this update.

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In The News: Police Arrest Fake Dog Doctor, Obama’s Immigration Action, Jeb Bush May Face Backlash On Education Record, Obama’s Immigration Action

By on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 10:03 am
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Alachua County Homeless Seek Relief From Cold

By on November 19th, 2014 | Last updated: November 19, 2014 at 7:17 pm

With temperatures in North Central Florida plunging to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, Alachua County’s homeless population is seeking shelter from the elements.

Bo Diddley Plaza downtown was starkly empty Wednesday morning, as most who normally sleep there looked for warmer arrangements. Only a few remained.

Commodore Mullet and his dog Missy slept bundled together in a sleeping bag and a tarp. Mullet wore three layers of jackets, two pairs of thermal leggings, pants, two pairs of socks, gloves and a hat to keep warm.

Not wanting to abandon his small black-and-white companion, he did not seek to sleep at St. Francis House a few blocks over. Mullet also voiced his displeasure with the shelter, saying he feels unwelcome there.

“We shouldn’t be treated like we’re a lesser person,” he said of himself and other homeless residents.

With temperatures this week approximately 20 degrees below average, according to UF meteorologist Jeff Huffman, the recently opened Grace Marketplace shelter off Waldo Road felt pressure to open more indoor sleeping areas.

The shelter opens up its welcome center for nightly accommodation when the temperature drops below 45 degrees at night, according to Jonathan DeCarmine, Director of Operations for the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.

Grace Marketplace had 26 people come sleep in the center Tuesday night, the coldest night the area has seen this season. The shelter can accommodate more people, but not many are willing to move inside for the night. Over 100 people live in tents surrounding the campus.

However, some are not apt to leave their tents for fear of leaving their belongings vulnerable to theft.

“Coming inside means leaving everything you own behind in that tent,” DeCarmine said.

Some people bond together as a means to combat the cold by sleeping near each other in trucks or in tents. James Bell, Jeff Cheroki, Joe Davis and Mark Lewis do just that.

“Everybody in this camp is like a family,” Bell said. “We help each other out.”

They keep a fire going with firewood they gather and share blankets.

Cheroki plans on moving into an apartment as soon as his disability check arrives from Colorado.

“This is a temporary situation, but for a temporary situation this is ideal,” he said of staying with his three friends in their camp.

They all spoke of the kindness of the employees at Grace Marketplace and how they provided services for them, especially for the cold nights.

“They don’t put you down,” Cheroki said.

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