Andy Lowery (BSEE ’97) is an agent of change. Like many successful modern entrepreneurs, he has both the desire and the drive to take ideas from the drawing board and impose them upon the canvas of the world.
Lowery is president of augmented reality company DAQRI. Lowery is quick to distinguish between virtual and augmented reality: virtual reality is easy to envision in devices such as the Oculus Rift, which immerse the viewer in a world independent of the reality surrounding them, such as fantasy landscapes and alien skies. Augmented reality, on the other hand, is an overlay on top of the extant physical world, more akin to the experience of Google Glass.
However, while Google Glass displays information in the viewer’s reticles, augmented reality or “4-D” aims to bring images or objects into the viewer’s world, enabling them to see, effectively, another world on top of the physical. An example of this phenomenon that DAQRI has developed is Anatomy 4-D, a mobile app that turns a user's smartphone or tablet into an augmented reality lens. When users look at a printed target through a device's camera, they see a virtual human body overlaid on top of the image, and can toggle between different body systems, obtaining an experience that is much more intuitive than reading about the organs in a textbook.
Lowery comes to DAQRI from a position as director of engineering at Raytheon. At Raytheon, Lowery managed the company’s entry into the Navy’s $8 billion Next Generation Jammer Project, in which his team competed with several other companies for the chance to work on the Navy’s electronic warfare projects. Raytheon was last in the running in the competition, but under Lowery’s leadership, the company beat all of its competitors to snag the contract.
Lowery wasn’t always this driven, however. In high school, though he was intellectually gifted, he admits to not having much of a sense of direction.
“I could have done well in school but just didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Lowery said. “I didn’t get very good grades and spent most of my free time indulging a passion in science fiction, and after high school, drifted for a bit of time doing odd jobs before deciding I’d join the Navy to get some structure in my life.”
However, when he turned up at the recruiting office, Lowery was perplexed to hear the recruiter’s advice.
“If you’re aiming to join the Navy to get discipline and structure, you might as well not join at all,” the recruiter said. “All the Navy does is give you the tools to get that discipline and structure for yourself. Are you up for it?”
Lowery decided he was. He sailed through boot camp and passed test after test, graduating up the technical school hierarchy until he landed himself at an elite Navy nuclear enlisted commissioning program. As part of the program, he enrolled in ECE ILLINOIS, where he graduated with highest honors, and proceeded to work as a reactor electrical assistant on a Navy nuclear aircraft carrier.
After leaving the Navy at the rank of lieutenant commander, Lowery worked in a succession of project managerial positions at companies like Tyco Electronics and M/A-COM before arriving at Raytheon.
After winning Raytheon the competition, Lowery could see a promising career ahead of him up the career ladder of a significant powerhouse in the defense industry, and most of his colleagues predicted a plush seat eventually greeting him at the company’s boardroom table. However, a lunch with Brian Mullins, the CEO of a young company called DAQRI, quickly changed all of that.
Across the table of a restaurant with Mullins, Lowery discovered that whatever he’d thought was the cutting edge of augmented reality was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what DAQRI was up to.
“I remember he gave me an iPhone and held up what looked to just be a pegboard with some bolts and washers screwed into it,” Lowery said. “I looked at it through the iPhone and saw virtual instructions overlaid on top of the bolts, which I could even turn with my hands, and then the virtual overlay reacted to tell me to turn certain knobs, or rotate a different way. This completely blew me away.”
After the lunch, Mullins invited Lowery to DAQRI’s headquarters, where the developing technology that Lowery saw “was just mouthwatering.”
DAQRI was working on augmented reality concepts that Lowery hadn’t seen demonstrated even at the highest levels of research and development. He could envision an environment in which a simple set of lenses would reveal a whole new world on top of what exists physically, populated with seemingly holographic objects that users could interact with. Furthermore, everyone he met at DAQRI was convinced of the company’s goal and completely committed to bringing their visions to life, from a brilliant computer scientist who chose to stay at DAQRI long past working hours debugging his code to engineers from DreamWorks seeing DAQRI's work and jumping on board. Lowery described what follows as an almost religious experience.
“It was while I was touring DAQRI, seeing how they were going to truly shape the future of technology, and hence, of humanity, that I realized that this was my calling,” Lowery said. “I saw it was my purpose in life to be here and to help these people change the world.”
To the awe of his colleagues, Lowery left his comfortable, secure future at Raytheon and took the position of president at DAQRI, where he is today.
“Part of why I did so well at Raytheon was because I was able to take a small underdog team to its maximum potential and win the contract,” Lowery said. “At Raytheon, however, now that that was over I was going to have to re-gear myself into the day to day duties of an executive at a much larger company. DAQRI was an opportunity for me to execute the same kind of talents that I showcased in winning the Next Generation Jammer Competition by taking a fledgling company and helping it remake the world.”