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Meet Alan Kenny of Kenautics in Encinitas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alan Kenny.

Alan, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In my early life, I had received an appointment to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. My goal was to study nuclear physics, become a fighter pilot, and become an astronaut.

The Naval Academy (as are all Service Academies) is a premier institution – one I would recommend to any young person – which reflected my character and patriotism and provided an excellent opportunity to study physics. Although I eventually chose to study engineering, as an idealistic 18-year-old who believed himself to be unstoppable and invincible, I chose during my Plebe year to take a different path than the Academy and requested to exercise my 2-year option to leave the Academy and pursue life’s adventure and knowledge in a different way.

Although I never realized my dream in the Astronautics world, I spent a lot of time in the air – extensively flying hang gliders and jumping out of planes, sometimes flying the small planes, and extensively sitting in commercial aircraft running around the world for business. I also spent a great deal of time (and still do) with the Boy Scouts, both as a youth and as an adult leader, as well as a lot of time underwater, which relates extensively to my company.

Professionally, I began my career in 1984 at Honeywell in Hopkins, MN, with their Defense Systems Division, where I had originally held a high-school internship. I began in an environmental test lab dealing primarily with vibration and shock testing of Defense and underseas products, including the Mk-50 Torpedo program, as well as acoustics, temperature, and other Military Standard (Mil-Std) severe environments simulation and testing.

After gaining early experience as a technician, I moved to an applications engineering role with the Structural Test Products division of GenRad (later acquired by Spectral Dynamics) in their Chicago office in the late 1980s. Within a year I had moved to a sales role in their San Jose office, and later sales management and international business development roles.

After 11 years in these roles, I shifted my career from the test world to the Computer Aided Engineering (CAE)  software world to help further the sales worldwide for a small company in San Diego known as Vibro-Acoustic Sciences, who specialized in higher frequency acoustics analysis and simulation. We were later acquired by ESI-Group out of Paris, France.  Subsequently, I accepted a position with RESON, Inc. as VP of sales out of their Santa Barbara Office for several years before taking on a role in San Diego with Teledyne RD Instruments as their worldwide Sales Manager and later Director for the Navigation Product Line.

Although all these 31 years from 1984 until 2015 were spent mostly in roles as Sales and management, throughout my career I consistently was deeply involved to varying degrees in the engineering and technology and wore all “hats” at all times, being involved with engineering, applications, support, product planning and design, customer support and service, production, and of course all aspects of business management that formed part of my management roles.

During this time, the acquisition of skills, experience, and a deep understanding of customer needs across many industries – aerospace, defense, automotive, law enforcement and search and rescue, oil and gas and energy, ocean research, and military special operations – added to my own sense of patriotism, and led me to take on a personal challenge to help bring forward the state of the art and supply a solution with an integrated high-tech product for which I felt I could make a difference for the DoD, Search and Rescue, and Ocean Research, by leveraged skills and knowledge acquired throughout my career.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As is the story with any small business, the road is never paved. In fact, I would say I chose a very non-traditional and rocky path that had not yet even trodden the grass. While I knew the market for which I was designing my product would support the business in the long term, I pursued the challenge based on personal belief and objectives with the idea that “If you build it, they will come.”

Most financial and business advisers would likely recommend against the path that has been taken, because it is based on trust, determination, effort, and a strong belief in a future reward for the effort, instead of a traditional business model that seeks heavy up-front investment for this expensive product and market.

To overcome this, at least to the level of bare minimums, I garnered the support of just a few close friends and family, and together we boot-strapped the effort to realize our product. Some provided sweat-equity support for engineering and other financial support to the company. Personally, the main challenge has been financial. I had planned for 2 ½ years without an income. But now I am at four years and counting.

We are just beginning to gain traction both internationally and in the US markets, but the need to reinvest all earnings into the company to bring it to full fruition takes a great deal of commitment, belief, and patience – which is not in any way waning, and in fact is stronger today than when I began. Fortunately, this dedication and effort continue to maintain the belief in the company, and me personally, to overcome this challenge. We all believe and trust that rewards for the effort and determination will eventually come. But the challenge persists today.

The market itself is its own challenge. This was known at the outset. Serving primarily DoD, federal agencies, and ocean research, these are markets that take a great deal of time to invest. Time itself is a great “cost”, a challenge as large as the technical challenges of “doing things right” as opposed to cheaply. Even large established companies have a challenge funding the business development for similar types of products and markets.

In fact, that is one reason – the lack of investment to this market by the larger companies in the industry – – that led me to create Kenautics. Today, I continue to believe in the purpose and remain committed – as do the friends and family behind me – to overcome all market, technology, and financial challenges, and to serve the needs of our intended clients.

Kenautics – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The company, Kenautics, Inc., is a small business built on a belief that keeping our clients safe underwater is as much of an objective as is enabling them with our innovative and advanced technology. The company serves primarily divers – military, commercial, and academic – by providing underwater navigation and underwater imaging systems.

The Navigation is based on high end Doppler-aided inertial navigation – similar to what is used in a submarine – and the imagery is based on both video and sonar. We are also in the process of integrating underwater robotic autonomy, underwater communications, and other innovative capabilities needed by divers and underwater operators. All of the imagery data is geo-referenced so that end users can map imagery and can navigate to, or back to, locations underwater even in a zero visibility environment.

Our primary application spaces include underwater waypoint navigation, geo-referencing of underwater imagery, and underwater inspection. Waypoint navigation would be used for search patterns for search, rescue, recovery, and salvage, Navy SEALs or Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), and for environmental research that is used for mapping and correlating information with position. It is similar to taking your GPS navigation system underwater along with your camera using it to locate video and sonar imagery or marine life information, even in a zero visibility environment.

While Kenautics is not the only company in this domain, we are by far the most accurate underwater navigation solution. We are also the only US-based, US designed, and  US produced product. Although we are the newest company in our area, the engineers who have helped design and develop our technology likely have more experience – 150 man-years – than all of our competitors combined.

Kenautics believes that while there are a plethora of technology companies and individuals who can design and integrate many forms of technical solutions, we are one of the few, if not the only one, who focuses on assuring that enabling technologies underwater first consider human diver safety as part of the design. We evaluate cost-benefit when designing our solutions by including the cost of the human operator, his safety, as well as the efficiency of the underwater operation and weigh this far ahead of the cost of the technology itself. Our goal is to always “do it right the first time” and to invest in doing it correctly because in the underwater world, similar to space, there may not be a second chance when failure occurs. Implementing technology that also considers these human challenges is one of our distinguishing characters as a company and a product. Being intimately familiar with the end-users needs and challenges underwater also allows us to maintain an edge by assuring that even the seemingly unrelated minute details are considered.

Kenautics takes a very long-term view, assuming we will be a direct and permanent part of our end users solutions. We are extremely proud that we have been able to bring together like-minded, highly experienced technical, engineering, and business minded people and partners with a business model driven by ideology to first serve our clients.

Our abilities and experience are used to integrate innovative solutions to our products that our clients may not even know they need, or may not have known they could have. We bring our knowledge and skills to bear on everything we do, and we believe in providing the benefits of our knowledge and capability “pro-bono,” so to speak, by integrating advanced capabilities to our products and solutions.

We see this as our own reward, and that the benefit to our clients will help all in the long run.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
During our first contract, challenges rose that we hadn’t seen initially. It threatened the very core of our mission and purpose and our technical benefit. We prided ourselves on our ability to deliver navigational accuracy underwater, But we had a challenge that made it feel as though we were making a moon shot and ending up on the sun! The answer was hidden in a combination of unrelated and seemingly benign issues in software, and hardware and the interacting physics and engineering.

After a series of disappointing results and spending a great deal of time in the water, I backed up and spent time alone “deep diving” into every aspect of our hardware and software, After decomposing the problem into potentially unrelated and elusive issues that I had seen from separate observations over time, I requested a series of small and unrelated changes. All were “simple” answers, and after implementing the solutions, a test run was made that proved extremely successful.

The test began looking as if it was doomed from the start. We were watching bubbles from the surface on a boat while a diver followed a path and seemed to be roving all over. But it turned out he was wrestling with other challenges, and as he dealt with those and was able to then refocus on the test, he suddenly converged on his target.

The result was so accurate – swimming to and touching a buoy 600 meters away in almost zero visibility water – that it was as if we went from missing the sun to hitting a Pizza on Jupiter with a dart thrown from earth. The elation was extraordinary from everyone who was present. It far exceeded the results that we believed we could achieve even at the conception of our product.

Pricing:

  • Basic capabilities $50-$80,000
  • Full capabilities range from $100,000 to $200,000

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Hikida Makoto; Margo Newsome; Mike Vorhis; Alan Kenny; Myeong Kap Chang

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