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Written By

Bianca de Loryn

College/Division

College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

14 June 2022

This is not a game: Training cars with the Unreal Engine

JCU Information Technology (IT) alumni Aidan Possemiers is one of the cofounders of TensorWorks, a Cairns-based software company that uses the Unreal Engine gaming technology for a variety of industries beyond games.

After studying a Bachelor of Information Technology (Honours), majoring in Game and Interactive Media Design at JCU, Aidan Possemiers and fellow JCU IT alumni Dr Adam Rehn founded TensorWorks, a software company in Cairns. Both Aidan and Adam shared an interest in developing cutting edge technology, and neither wanted to move away from regional Australia after their graduation.

“We started off here in Cairns doing AI-related projects. I had been researching artificial intelligence (AI) as part of my PhD, and Adam had completed his PhD in cloud computing already,” Aidan says. “Our initial consulting clients were in the geographic, science, mining and autonomous vehicles sectors. They were interested in using new technologies, such as AI, to accelerate their often manual workloads.”

In order to work on client projects, such as training the AI of self-driving cars, Aidan and Adam used a software called the Unreal Engine. “This is much cheaper than having cars making errors in the real world,” Aidan says.  The Unreal Engine is free to use, and popular games like Fortnite and Unreal Tournament are using it.  “Over time, it got to the point where we were becoming known more for our work with the Unreal Engine than our expertise in AI,” Aidan says.

Running the Unreal Engine in a container

The Unreal Engine is powerful, but it's also a sizable software (41 gigabytes) and needs several other programs (‘dependencies’) for it to run as well. “So, Adam had the idea, during a 72-hour game jam, to put the Unreal Engine into ‘containers’,” Aidan says. “Think of a time when you shared a file with a friend, and it wouldn’t open on their computer because it didn’t have the required software. Containers solve this problem because a container has everything the application needs to run.”

After eight months of hard work, Adam succeeded in building and running the Unreal Engine in a container. “That was the point when we started to get a lot of customers coming to us who wanted to use the Unreal Engine in the cloud,” Aidan says.

One customer, for example, wanted to show their architectural designs online, so their clients could see their future homes in their internet browser instead of coming into the office. “You can see a building in real time. You can choose to look at it, say, during sunset, and the lighting is updated photo-realistically,” Aidan says.

This service became especially popular during the lockdown periods in 2020 and 2021, when people were getting used to doing almost everything online, including planning their future homes.

The TensorWorks executive team (left to right): Aidan Possemiers, Luke Bermingham, Nicholas Pace, Adam Rehn. (Supplied: Aidan Possemiers)

Admiral: Building Unreal projects outside games development

After the TensorWorks team had developed an easier way to distribute their software, they aimed to find a better way to build projects for non-games industries. Their software ‘Admiral’ simplifies the process of working with the Unreal Engine for those programmers who don’t have a gaming background.

“The Unreal Engine was created by game developers, for game developers. So Unreal doesn't always follow typical industry practices,” Aidan says. “We are building Admiral to help bridge this gap.”

Epic Games, the owners of the Unreal Engine, are always interested in new uses for their software. Because of this, TensorWorks was awarded an Epic Mega Grant for their Admiral software project. Admiral is still in development, but the TensorWorks team estimates that it should be available for use before the end of 2022.

Growing a software team in regional Australia

When Aidan and Adam started to work on the Admiral project while balancing it with their other consulting work, they realised that they needed a bigger team. “We brought on our other two directors, Luke and Nick, to start splitting up the workload,” Aidan says.

The current team of directors, Aidan, Adam, Dr. Luke Bermingham and Nicholas Pace are all JCU alumni and had met each other while studying for their degrees. Since 2020, the TensorWorks team has grown from a team of two to a team of fourteen people.

Starting a software company in regional Australia is more difficult than starting one in a capital city, especially since programmers in the Cairns region are few and hard to find. However, the TensorWorks team has found a home in the Ideas Lab at JCU Cairns, on the Nguma-bada campus in Smithfield.

“Cairns is a great place to live. We’ve got fast internet and an International Airport, so there's no real reason for tech companies like us not to be here,” says Aidan. “We hope that by growing the TensorWorks team and by being a part of the Ideas Lab community, we can extend the tech ecosystem in Cairns and attract more companies and talent to the region.”

“If there were more incentives for companies to be located in regional centres it would help expand the ecosystem and the talent would follow.”

Aidan Possemiers, Director of TensorWorks

The JCU Ideas Lab atrium

Finding your niche and securing it

Aidan and Adam founded TensorWorks more than five years ago, and they have gathered a lot of experience since then. When it comes to graduates looking to start their own business, Aidan says, “find your niche.”

“We found our own gap,” Aidan says. But a niche alone is not enough in technology. “Success depends not only on your niche, but also on how you secure yourself and adapt to that niche,” Aidan says.

“At TensorWorks, we have a curiosity to push technology further, and this is what really gets people excited. Billion-dollar companies are reaching out to work with us in order to keep advancing this technology.”

Tips for learning the right programming language

For graduates looking to work in the software and AI industry, Aidan says that learning a lower-level programming language, such as C++, is a career enabler – even if people are learning it in their own time. “Many TensorWorks team members are self-taught in C++,” Aidan says. “Low level languages are incredibly necessary for all developers as there is, at least in terms of problem-solving, always a line you won't be able to cross without it.”

TensorWorks are always looking for C++ developers and Go programmers to join their team. “We are especially interested in hearing from individuals who have a passion for working with the Unreal Engine in weird and wonderful ways,” Aidan says.

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