Charu Thomas is a polymath entrepreneur, researcher, and hacker. She’s the founder of Ox a company building an AR platform for order picking in warehouses. She is also a wearable computing researcher with Thad Starner, the inventor of Google Glass. She is fascinated by a future where humans can embed electronics into their daily lives.
You founded Ox when you were only 18, when did you first discover that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I wanted to be a mathematician and economist when I was in high school, and I never considered entrepreneurship as an option until after my freshman year of college. In 2017, I was working at Martin-Brower, which handled the supply chain for McDonald’s North America. It was my first job, and it was also my first look at a high-performing supply chain. I learned a lot that summer, and I also became intrigued by the prospect of entrepreneurship. I spent my time after work at Entrepreneurs’ Night at ATDC (Advanced Technology Development Center), the Georgia Tech incubator. I loved the experience of networking with entrepreneurs who were building game-changing technology, and I definitely saw myself in their shoes for the first time.
Could you share with us the genesis story of how you got started with launching Ox?
The original concept that would later become Ox came from research I did at Georgia Tech under Thad Starner, the inventor of Google Glass. Our research was centered on augmented reality, wearables and order picking. We ended up publishing that work and won best paper at an International Wearable Computing Symposium (ISWC2018).
Ox describes itself as a fulfillment platform that is built for the future of supply chain. Could you share some details with what precisely Ox is?
Designed to help businesses meet the ever-growing consumer needs for fast shipping and in-store pick up, Ox eliminates the time that supply chains spend manually assigning work and tracking performance. Through its machine learning software, Ox has created a process for workforce optimization, providing management staff with a way to maximize productivity, automate work assignments, gain visibility over orders and measure employee performance. Ox’s state-of-the-art platform integrates with a company’s current order management operating system and provides tools—unique to each retailer—to transform its brick-and-mortar stores into micro-distribution centers through optimized pick-from-store operations.
What types of machine learning technologies are used at Ox?
At Ox, we use cloud-based NLP models for speech recognition (with plans to move to on-device models) in order to facilitate hands-free data input.
You are also a wearable computing researcher with Thad Starner, the inventor of Google Glass. Could you share your views on the future of wearable computers?
Wearable computers are the next step of human evolution. I personally want to be a cyborg one day, and I want everyone else to be a cyborg. Wearables are the first practical way that people will utilize technology to overcome their natural limitations.
You helped Mentor a team at the National Science Foundation (NSF) that builds wearable computing gloves that empowers stroke survivors to use their hands again. Could you share some details regarding this exciting project?
This is the power of a phenomenon known as “Passive Haptic Learning (PHL)”. Passive Haptic Learning uses vibrotactile stimulation to teach people patterns without active attention—that means that the gloves will tap on your fingers in a particular pattern, and even if you’re doing something else, you will remember the pattern through muscle memory. More recently, the team was utilizing the same technology to help stroke survivors gain the ability to use their spastic limbs again, and the results were astonishing. I’m really proud to be able to help support this fantastic technology which will enable people to overcome their natural limitations.
Where do you see augmented reality in the next five years?
Augmented reality is coming out of the ‘trough of disillusionment’ phase, which means that I imagine there will be plenty of productive use cases. The biggest challenges, especially with head-worn devices, have mostly been solved.
It seems like you enjoy keeping yourself busy, what are you currently busy working on?
Ox is a full-time job (and then some!). Other than leading my team, I enjoy meditating and reflecting on life. It’s the only way I stay sane!
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Ox or other projects that we discussed?
What we’ve created with Ox is a complete fulfillment platform built for the future of supply chain. Ox allows companies to fully optimize their fulfillment operations by empowering their workforce to do more. The platform integrates seamlessly with current systems to automate warehouse and pick routing to maximize unit shipment per hour. By implementing Ox into all areas of fulfillment, supply chains can be pulled into the future and into the competition.