Drones are an essential tool in construction projects. They are typically used in area mapping and surveying the outdoors. But Kyle Orciuch wants to go further and develop drones that can fly indoors. Sitting down with John Riley and George Usi, the Founder of CausalTwin shares how their invention can help architects get eyes in the sky and even inside buildings, giving them the necessary data while reducing time spent on site. Kyle also shares how he got into flying drones through soccer and what he looks forward to in the future of mapping construction sites using such technology.
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How Drones That Fly Indoors Can Change Construction With Kyle Orciuch
We got an amazing guest for this episode. He is a two-time Pac-12 champion for the Stanford Cardinal as a goalkeeper. He is an NSIN Starts Naval Tank Inspection finalist. Welcome to our CEO and Founder of CausalTwin, Kyle Orciuch.
Thanks for having me here.
We are going to jump right in here. If cybersecurity was a pizza and the frameworks were the crust, what is the riskiest topping you have seen? What topping would you equate that to?
I am a huge fan of pizza. The least favorite topping on pizza that I have is anchovies. I don’t know who came up with the idea of anchovies on pizza but in my line of work, the anchovies in my world would be if someone got control of my drones or fed it false GPS data spoofing a satellite would be a worst-case scenario. A drone could be rerouted to a location that an adversary would want. In my line of business, that could be disastrous because drones can lacerate people, especially if they don’t have a cage to protect them. That would be the anchovies on my pizza, spoofing false GPS position data to my drones.
In regards to your role as CEO, what keeps you up at night? You mentioned the blades and everything else and somebody is taking over those items.
What else would keep me up is if someone were able to siphon sniff packets sent over on the video telemetry front. In radio communications, you have some modulation going on. Most people are not that adept at catching onto that. If we have private and public key encryption and good AES standards, this is not a problem.
In certain cases, if someone forgets to encrypt a channel and we have video telemetry going on, we are handling sensitive information or flying around sensitive assets. Someone was to be able to get a hold of that video telemetry. That is something I would be worried about. If we take the necessary steps, I’m not worried about a good day but that is what I think about that.
You got a number of FAA regulations that you got to meet and you are looking at some of the security regulations. What is your biggest challenge in meeting those regulations?
One of our biggest goals is to get beyond visual line-of-sight clearance from the FAA. We don’t have that now. To get that, you need to prove that you have complete control of your unmanned aircraft and it is free from interference. It is not going to mess with other airwaves or the communications of other aircraft. It needs to be able to return home with a high degree of accuracy and certainty.
There is a bunch of different kinds of contingencies that go with that. What if the signal is lost? What if the satellite constellation is unavailable for the drone? What if the operator loses the RC signal or video telemetry? You have to have a contingency plan for all these different scenarios. For BVLOS, Beyond Visual Line Of Sight, these are all things that need to be accounted for and prepared for.
We have heard some of that. When you are doing flight training, there is more training you need to fly at night and when there are clouds or non-visual. I can see the same need there for drones. Tell us about your solution. What did you build? How are you building it? What is your solution for that?
What we are trying to do at Causal Twin is to help architects get eyes in the sky and inside buildings. One of the biggest pain points we are addressing is that architects have to go on-site and take a bunch of physical measurements by hand, pictures, laser scaler and other tools to help them understand the dimensionality of space that they are going to either refurbish, renovate or tear down and erect a new building on top of.
With our drones, we are creating drones that can fly indoors and outdoors and have a heuristic for mapping those spaces well. There are other players in this space, like DroneDeploy, where you can automate waypoints as an X and Y location also altitude. Companies like that don’t have the capability to map indoor spaces.
We are using technology such as SLAM, which is Simultaneous Localization And Mapping. This is a very important concept in robotics. For example, a Roomba in your house uses 2D SLAM to get around. It has a 2D LiDAR on it that ping points in 360 degrees. As it moves around, it creates a floor plan of your kitchen, living room and bedroom. That is how it gets around.
We are trying to adapt this Roomba problem to three dimensions and get an accurate 3D scan of the space so that architects can understand what exactly needs to be changed and renovated and track the progress of construction. Those are the pain points we are addressing for the architects and construction managers.
Are there any specific regulatory requirements besides the FFA on that? Are these buildings empty? Are they looking at doing it for occupied buildings? Anything along those lines?
We are in an early-stage start-up. We are following the mantra of moving fast, breaking things and asking questions later. We are not going to be operating with people inside. We are going to clear all these buildings when we are flying indoors. In flying outdoors, you have the FAA regulations that come into play indoors. They don’t have jurisdiction indoors but they could step in if they have to if you are being egregious.
Every pilot that operates and accepts money for flying a drone needs to get a Part 107 license, which is an exception to flying small unmanned aircraft. The acronym is SUAS, Small Unmanned Aircraft System. You need to study for this test and take it at a regional airport. About the people and the buildings, you want to make sure you clear everyone out. You don’t want to make a mistake. If you have an aircraft like a cage and basic obstacle avoidance, you are going to avoid a workplace accident. Those are the concerns that you have with this line of work.
The goal of this is to save the time of the architect and the building owner. Is that it for the most part?
Yes. Let’s say you have an office in a major metro area and sites that are all over the place. Maybe sometimes even 2 to 3 hours away. It doesn’t make sense. If the architect forgets to take a picture of a particular wall or section of the building, they would have to drive back to get that information because they work in absolute dimensions.
They are not going to do guesswork. That is not how it works. They would have to come back on-site and get whatever they forgot to get. You could summon the drone and say, “Scan this area.” I don’t even need to be there and return the results to me. I’m going to stay in my office. I’m going to go to my cured egg, put the cake up in, pour it and the scan will be done.
Kyle, what events do you go to learn more about this?
I haven’t gone to many events. I have done customer discovery work by interviewing architects. I used to be a model maker and intern at an architecture firm in Palo Alto and COVID struck. I took a switch of gears with my career because I believed that computer science would be more resilient in terms of the delivery of instruction during COVID at Stanford. I was about to sign off on being an architect myself and COVID happened so I signed up for the Computer Science Department instead.
Are there any books you would recommend to learn more about this and how you are implementing cybersecurity solutions on top of your solution?
I have books that come to mind for how to create a startup.
You can share those with us. That is fine too.
The start-up owner’s manual is good. I took Hacking for Defense at Stanford. Before it became CausalTwin, it was Team Ankaba in this class. We were a couple of guys that got together to do some tinkering for national security. We were given a problem by the Office of Naval Research to automate ballast tank inspections. We were working in a different space before we incorporated.
We did 100 customer interviews in 10 weeks with different stakeholders in the US Navy. We discovered that they could have a great benefit by having remotely operated vehicles go into these claustrophobic tanks that hold seawater, fuel and other materials. It could severely reduce workplace hazards and increase the fidelity of information you can get.
Before inspectors would go into these tanks, they have a piece of paper and take notes, maybe a printed copy of the blueprints. With this technology, you could create digital twins and annotations that are overlaid on these 3D models. You have much more pinpointed accuracy on the types of conditions where they are located and what steps can be taken to remediate whether it is rust, cracked welds and dense. Usually, the biggest problem is corrosion in some of these tanks. This is not only a problem that the US Navy was facing. Big shipping companies, such as Maersk and Chevron, would also have problems with this.
We are doing a project for one of our clients. Not only do we do the venture arm but we also have some clients that are bootstrapping ourselves. For one of our clients, we were working on an SBIR proposal for a drone that could navigate confined spaces for the US Navy. For this project, they were concerned about cybersecurity because they looked at the entire market and they were like, “We can’t use DJI.” There was a report that came out. I don’t know if it was confirmed or not. They have the capability to send information back to Mainland China.
The DoD had issued this statement that DJI is not acceptable for our use cases anymore. They issued a directive that local and state governments should exercise caution when using DJI products. However, the market share for law enforcement and government use cases and drones is overwhelmingly DJI. The DoD did boot them out but for the purposes of this project, they wanted FIPS 140-2 compliance. There are four levels to that. I’m sure you are aware.
What was funny was that the technical points of contact for this project slapped down this 140 standard. They had no idea what it was. I went ahead and did research. I’m like, “I’m looking at all the levels.” I’m looking at levels 2 through 4 and tamper evidence, like hardware. If someone were able to rip off the crypto hardware module and gain access to it, it would need to be tamper-evident. I’m like, “How does this apply to drones?” The language and those levels were weird to apply to drones because you don’t necessarily need some of those provisions but at the same time, the sentiment is good for a general umbrella. There should be new standards that should be specific to drones. They slap this umbrella term onto it.
They slap the entire framework on you, which is typical. Sometimes they are told that this is what they should use without checking it. We find that a lot sometimes. Kyle, you’re mapping these things and saving people time but what else excites you about the future in the industries?
What excites me is the fact that we can digitize the world. This sounds a little cliché. It is already being done but there is this report I read by McKinsey that digital supply chains are the future. Imagine you are a digital supply chain and you are playing around with it, poking around with it like a puppet. You can simulate all these bad actions by adversaries or adverse events such as natural disasters or pandemics.
What is amazing about that is that you create a model such that it is complex enough to model all the idiosyncrasies and nuances in a particular segment of the economy. You can’t do this for the entire country. Let’s say it is mission-critical to national security or a critical sector of our economy. With that, you can do some interesting things. In this report, you could create robust contingency plans for when things go bad using these digital twins of the supply chain of the economy.
People might ask me, “What does this mean?” It means you have a good representation of what assets you have, what goods are exchanging hands and the expected shelf life. Stuff like this has already been implemented but not at a scale that can create a robust plan for governments and higher-level decision-makers. Government is usually behind on this stuff. They are laggards.
It is not just the government with a laggard situation. It is also the storytelling. We can talk about flux capacitors and do hickeys all day long. Most people aren’t going to understand. When you are talking about lawmakers and legislators, having a story behind something is important. Years ago, I was working on a bunch of flex capacitor stuff. It is called delay-tolerant networking and latency, which the average lawmaker is going to be like, “He is speaking English but I don’t know what he is saying.”
Long story short, we got to tell a story about, “We need to figure out how to get first responders connected when they go and deal with disasters.” The issue is they can’t communicate with each other on their radios. If there is an event, we need something that can heal the network, like a natural disaster event. That ended up being applied in Hurricane Katrina years ago in Louisiana.
One of the prototype models we worked on with Naval Postgraduate School, specifically, a guy named Brian Steckler, was we deployed this NEMO unit. It can heal communications, cell communications, internet communications and anything possible through these mobile units you would drive around after a flood. The story there was it worked and we saved people stuck in their attics. We saved their lives. That is something a lawmaker or legislator can understand.
Those stories became important because they ended up evolving into what s called delay-tolerant networking for getting the internet on Mars with JPL and some of the folks working on that project. It started with what was terrestrial-based or ground-based healing and turned into an application in space, which makes sense if you tell the story because we had those same experiences. I’m curious, what is the story that you tell to make people understand what you do?
My story is simple. The mission of the company and I is to provide the tools necessary for people to make the best decisions possible without necessarily being on site all the time, having to be there and having this companion or suite of tools to make sure that you are present. Not in person but with all the necessary information you need to make a decision as if you were there. That is what the mission is at the crux.
Causal Twin’s mission is to provide the necessary tools that will allow people to make the best decisions without being personally present at construction sites all the time.
In my mind, the story I heard in technical interpretation was, “We have a building. It has been damaged. People can’t go in because they could die. Let’s get our drone and deploy it. We will do an inspection because our drone technology can three-dimensionally look at this environment.” By sending the drone, it saved lives because there was a time when the drone was flying through and it got squished because something failed and that could have been a human and we saved lives.
There is a story that resonates and makes sense but that also puts you into this position potentially to be like, “You are the drone.” In case of a disaster, you get pigeonholed if you tell the story without other stories of all these applications on how your technology works or how it benefits in a way that I always say, “If a lawmaker or a jury could understand it, you are good.” If it gets too technical, that is great for the backend research and due diligence. I always struggle with that.
What is the story in terms of the applications that you can solve? From your perspective, I’m sure there are tons of different stories you can tell because I see them all in my head as you are talking about them. That is the wonderful part of the future of drone technology and what it can accomplish for you. It becomes a market opportunity at the same time so everybody wins.
One story I can share, not from personal experience but from what I have read, was the condo collapses here in Florida that occurred. One story or narrative we can provide to the government or local state officials is why not have our technology used as a compliance checkpoint or a series of checkpoints? When buildings are being constructed, the quality of that construction is an open audit. Whatever bureau in the local government manages construction permits can have an open view of how the building is being constructed. They can see how that changes over time. They can catch errors before you get too far into the rabbit hole.
If you have the wrong radius on a support pillar in your parking garage and are building on top of it, it is already late. If you have an I-beam that is not wide enough to support the load or you ordered the wrong part and it came to the site and you installed it anyway because of miscommunication. That is the story. Cost overruns and safety occur when you make a mistake early on in a project because of the consecutive nature of construction.
When you build the foundation and you build on top of it, you can’t change that foundation. Having something that can catch this would not only benefit the investors and whoever is funding the building but it would benefit the construction company, the contractors and also the local government. They could have an open audit into the quality of the construction of a commercial building and interest.
That is a great example of an application. There are probably many more. It is always a difficult choice to choose what stories you are telling in what situation. The fun part is that the futures and the things that you are excited about and what can happen are what the readers, whoever is reading, whether it is a buyer or a lawmaker, can grab onto and retell that story easily. That is the outcome of what we deliver. In aggregate, when it comes to the standard response, the concern has always traditionally been focused on what outcomes in saving lives.
The interesting part of cyber risk and what we do is it is automatically getting inserted into every discussion. It is not necessarily about building the building but the issue of, “What if somebody does take control of the drone in the construction process and the drone is spoofed or compromised in a way that wrong information is provided and it becomes a disaster?” That is always the balance. When we talk about cyber risk in our world, it is often tied to the issue of, “Where is the cybersecurity and cyber risk in everything that is being done, especially in an internet world?”
The fact that you are security first in that mindset and how you are describing your technology is a win in itself. At least in our experience, I don’t think any buyer is going to move forward with any investment that is technology-oriented if they can’t prove it is secured and that is part of your natural DNA. I’m excited about what is coming in terms of what you are working on because that is critical.
There are certain projects that clients don’t necessarily want that information getting leaked out there somewhere. Let’s say we have a drone flying in a special project and we sign some confidentiality agreement. We can only have so much edge processing on the drone. Sometimes we may need to relay the scam data over the network and eventually to the cloud for some GPU computing. In this process, we need to make sure that the flow of information is secure from the physical land perspective and the land to AWS, which we have partnered with.
I’m the CEO. I don’t know the specifics of everything. I know we would need to properly configure and harden our cloud environment to ingest the data from our sites, which came from the drone and do some processing on that when we create our 3D models and when we need the GPUs to calculate the geometry of the point clouds that we are collecting.
Everything you have said is all applicable. We call it to store and forward in the networking world when you lose a connection. You are supposed to be connected to the cloud all the time but that is not always realistic, especially at a construction site. What store points do you have within the system? How do you get it off of the system in case the drone itself has an issue? I imagine it has been part of the high-level design process that you have gone through.
There is a process. Before you even get to the ink in a contract or before somebody starts to nod their head and say yes, companies have to achieve first a CMMC requirement, if you are dealing with a DoD subcontractor, which is a supply chain blessing. FedRAMP, you meet the need that Amazon, Microsoft and Google have had to attain.
It is not an easy thing to do all the time, as well as on an international basis. These all become part of the barriers to moving a piece of technology into the market. Most buyers and lawmakers aren’t super technical. They are looking for that attestation. That is what we do. It is very interesting to hear your story about how those requirements of those outcomes in the actual solution itself already know that you have a cybersecurity mindset. Thank you for that because not a lot of organizations do.
Kyle, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you come from? How did you get to this point?
I had no idea I would be doing what I was doing now in high school. I grew up in Northwest Indiana in a small town. I went to public school and played soccer for the Chicago Fire Academy. I did that for six years, from 2012 to 2018. I had a high enough profile that I was able to come to Stanford. I was offered a scholarship and I competed for a couple of years. In my last year, I left the team to focus on school a little bit more. I took some entrepreneurial classes. I realized that this is what is clicking with me. I love solving problems, talking to people and listening. That is the nutshell of how I got here.
Where did you work before this?
I worked at Second Front. It is a competitor to FedRAMP. It is a process they thought CATO, Continuous Authority To Operate, on a ramping process that was supposedly faster than FedRAMP. I’m sure you’ve heard of Platform One. FedRAMP and Platform One were the mechanisms by which companies could get their software accredited for government use. Second Front was providing a much quicker process to those alternatives that were provided by the government. Platform One was losing funding. They couldn’t take on as many clients but companies to get approved. Shrinking funding for Platform One and FedRAMP was slow. That is where Second Front was able to come in and provide a service for CATO.
If you could go back in time and give your high school self or previous self advice, what would that advice be?
Trust that everything happens for a reason. Given the name of my company, Causal Twin, don’t read into the causation too much of one event to another. Live life and know that you will converge on what you want to do regardless of whether you are aware of it or not. You don’t have to be hyperaware of it. You have to be living life to your fullest and being true to yourself. Eventually, you will converge on what you want to be doing. Don’t stress.
One of your passions was drones and soccer. What are those passions? What do you do outside of work that keeps you going?
The way I got into drones was because of soccer. In my sophomore year, I didn’t get too much playing time. There is a limited amount of spots that you can have on the bench. If you have a team of 30 guys, they are not going to suit up all 30 because only 11 can play at a time. Usually, you only need seven subs. You have eighteen that are suiting up, playing and being subbed in and subbed out.
They used to call them Red Shirts back then.
I was a Red Shirt. What do the other guys do? They take notes to do some scouting work, assist with filling up water and all this stuff behind-the-scenes work to help the team, anything to help the team, even if you are not suited up or dressed. The team has a drone. I would record games from the sky from roughly 100 feet up. It is hovering above our stadium lights. I had a drone that would have the gimbal angled down and a top-down view for our formation.
We were able to get some cool insights into how other teams were able to penetrate our backline. I would go fly the drone and hand over the footage at halftime. The coaches would make adjustments. I would not fly over the field. That would be crazy. I would fly far back but also angled in such that it was a top-down view. Believe it or not, soccer is how I got into drones because I was not dressing up that much and I would fly for the coaches.
Data is almost as important as playing the game sometimes. What else is a passion for you?
I love running and cycling. Those are my main activities but there is not much time for anything else at this point.
Where can people find you, Kyle?
They can find me on LinkedIn. My blog as a heads up is old. It probably still says that I’m looking for an internship. Our website is CausalTwin.ai. You can see what we are up to but we are in grind mode so you won’t see much for a while.
What a pleasure. I enjoyed the conversation. From the perspective of cyber risk, sometimes these conversations evolve into amazing and interesting topics, depending upon whom we are talking to. This is one of those golden gems. We look forward to seeing what is to come with your organization. The challenges that you face are going to be exciting, especially in the state you are in. We will be rooting for you.
Thanks so much.
Thank you, audience, for reading. If you learn something or laugh or you want to know more about drones, please tell somebody about this show. Kyle Orciuch, we appreciate your time and thank you. It has been another great episode of the show. See you next time. Thank you.
About Kyle Orciuch
– Founder of Causal Twin
– Former student-athlete, and Drone enthusiast
– First-time founder in the dronetech & computer vision space
– Former D1 varsity soccer athlete for the Stanford Cardinal (goalkeeper)
*Interested in enabling autonomous asset management & mapping for architects and construction managers,