Det Ansinn ’95
By Lini S. Kadaba
In 2015, Det Ansinn ’95 was walking the red carpet at the Raindance Film Festival in London, rubbing elbows with luminaries.
True, this wasn’t the run-of-the-mill venue for a computer geek. But then again, Ansinn is rarely run-of-the-mill.
“As an entrepreneur, I look at a lot of opportunities to create new things,” says the 45-year-old founder and president of BrickSimple, a Doyleston, Pa., headquartered company that develops innovative applications for cutting-edge technologies.
In fact, Ansinn landed on the red carpet because of an unusual project with artist David Datuna. Datuna: Portrait of America is a documentary about the life of the immigrant artist, who was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, and his iconic artwork that included wearable technology that BrickSimple helped integrate.
In his 2013 Portrait of America sculpture, Datuna laid 2,000 eyeglass lenses across a 12-foot American flag. Look closely, and viewers could see portraits of U.S. innovators and well-known individuals. But there was another techno twist. Datuna is credited as the first artist to integrate Google Glass into a pubic artwork.
Enter BrickSimple. The company developed the software that ran on the Glass devices, which have wireless location, and the hardware/software for the computers embedded within the art piece. Viewers wearing Glass while looking at different parts of the artwork could see video or hear audio clips. They also could say aloud a historic figures name, say JFK, for example, and hear his speech on truth and honesty.
The documentary won accolades at Raindance and other festivals. Meanwhile, BrickSimple has plans for other projects with Datuna and continues to stay on the forefront of applications.
Recently, the company developed a virtual reality (VR) experience for students learning CPR at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Resuscitation Science. Typically, a manikin is used to practice CPR skills. With VR goggles, a student will see an urban streetscape, with people panicking, Ansinn says. She can ask someone to call 911. Or she can see the commotion of a hospital ER as she works to save the patient.
“It makes it much more realistic,” he says, “and a much more impactful experience.”
Ansinn credits Drexel’s co-op program for exposing him to the possibilities of software development. Experiences with a military contractor and in industrial automation allowed him to “show my talent and validated what I was doing,” he says.
But his interest in technology goes back to his childhood. Ansinn’s father, an electrical engineer and vice president of an industrial manufacturing company, would often work weekends. A young Det would go along and often park himself in front of the office computer, a Tektronix 4051. “I spent my time learning the technology,” he says.
At age 12, Ansinn had a consulting gig to tutor grown-ups on the latest computing technology. At Drexel, he was part of the then new and rigorous educational reform program known as E4 (Enhanced Educational Experience for Engineering Students), spearheaded by Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Eli Fromm.
“It was a bonus,” he says and nurtured his interest in electrical engineering. “What was interesting about electrical was the interaction between the physical world and software.”
Ansinn’s first job was at start-up Cross Current Corp. which developed web applications during the early days of the Internet. He was the first employee.
“I became the chief architect for the company with 100 people,” he says of his trajectory. “It was very satisfying.”
In 2001, Ansinn left to start a new product company. That was BrickSimple, begun in 2002. The 50-person company, which also has offices in San Francisco and Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a leading developer of mobile, web, VR, wearable and other applications.
One of Ansinn’s points of pride is technology that allowed workers to build rich web applications in 70 percent less time. The time savings gave more expensive U.S.-based labor a competitive edge over lower-paid off-shore workers. “It was very cool,” he says.
The company also has worked on mobile applications for XBOX Live and, of course, on wearable computing for art projects.
“Technology has become more and more sophisticated,” Ansinn says. But what keeps him going isn’t just the latest piece of wizardry. “Solving problems is far more interesting than the technology itself. That’s what keeps me engaged.”