CSU startup company Numerica ensures homeland security in air, missile and space industries

Aubrey and Jeff Poore in Numerica library

Aubrey (seated) and Jeff Poore (standing) in the Numerica library, 2010.

Story by WildRock PR & Marketing

It was the late 1980s, and Colorado State University math professor Aubrey Poore occupied a small office in the engineering building. From here, research and industry partnerships helped set the course to launch what is now known as the Numerica Corporation, a leading global organization in the defense industry.

Today, Numerica has become a leader in air defense, missile defense and space domain awareness. The company made major headlines in 2021 with the launch of Spyglass™ short-range surveillance radar. Designed to fill the need for counter unmanned aircraft systems (C-UAS) detection and tracking, the 4D Spyglass radar supports a broad set of applications including facility security, border surveillance, convoy and vehicle protection, air space monitoring and more.

It all started in 1988, when IBM gave a presentation at CSU and asked for proposals. The general problem IBM presented was that of tracking multiple objects using multiple sensors – generally airplanes, cars on the ground, satellites, space debris and missiles.

Poore and his graduate student, Nenad Rijavec, formulated the central problem, called data association, in multi-object tracking as a multi-dimensional assignment problem. This was an NP-hard optimization problem (nondeterministic polynomial time) whose solution time grows exponentially with the size of the problem and is thus not amenable to real-time needs.

“This was a high-risk, high-payoff research problem,” Poore said.

After winning funding from IBM, Poore and Rijavec traveled to the company’s corporate offices once a month to meet with mentor Joe Persichetti. It took a year to get a handle on the problem. The optimization part Poore understood immediately, but how it fit into the application required intense focus.

As a result, they started with a “good” solution and worked from there to crack the optimization problem.

From there, Poore worked closely with the Federal Systems Division at IBM. In 1990, he was contacted by IBM Owego to give a tracking approach presentation.

“At that time, Owego supplied the computers to Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and needed a tracking system to run on their computers. IBM supported the maturity of the tracking system while the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) supported the work on the data association and assignment problems,” explained Poore.

In 1995, they were given data from Northrop Grumman’s E2C surveillance plane through IBM. Within two weeks, they had a performance superior to their in-house tracker. The official opportunity to demonstrate this tracking system, now known as the Multiple Frame Assignment (MFA), came in late 1995 when Poore and IBM Owego entered the MFA into the Best of Breed Contest at Hanscom AFB.

“We entered after other competitors had been competing for over a year. Results were announced in September 1996, and we won 82% of all Monte Carlo tests and hands down on throughput requirements,” Poore said.

Numerica was officially incorporated in May 1996. “I taught courses on numerical mathematics at CSU and envisioned that the science and engineering developed at Numerica would be based on robust numerical methods and algorithms. The name ‘Numerica’ is a translation of the work ‘numerical’ into Italian.”

The name has taken hold, and employees devotedly refer to themselves as Numericans, numerics permeating what they do.

In 2004, Poore was awarded the Technology Transfer Award by the Colorado State University Research Foundation (CSURF) which recognizes the importance of research breakthroughs and technology-transfer efforts started at CSU.

engineers working on radar signal analysis system

Nate Knight (standing), VP of air and missile defense and a 2008 CSU Ph.D. graduate in computer science, and Andrew Mank (seated), RF Systems and signal processing engineer, working on Spyglass™ radar signal analysis, 2021.

Commercialization through demonstration

In 1999, after the Best of Breed win, CSURF granted an exclusive license to Numerica for the rights to use innovations developed by Poore at CSU.

With an excess of work, Poore was seeking stronger business support. His son, Jeff Poore, began overseeing contracts as a favor but quickly took on a larger role. With a Master of Business Administration from the University of Denver, Jeff has taken this primarily research-focused organization to a market leader.

“Jeff has taken Numerica to the next level of success,” Aubrey Poore said.

In 2015, Jeff officially took over as president, and Poore, now an emeritus professor, retired.

“My Dad is very customer-oriented. Coupling unique technology and a profound desire to solve Important problems faced by our customers is a recipe for market magic,” Jeff Poore said. “He is unwaveringly focused on helping customers solve their most important problems and was always tenacious about helping them be successful. This is still part of our culture today.”

CSU beginnings, to Northern Colorado’s high-tech job catalyst

With three facilities across Colorado and 78 employees, Numerica has experienced exponential growth with Jeff Poore at the helm. The company’s academic origins remain evident; walk the halls and you’ll see numerous patents, whiteboards actively being used to solve problems, and hardware labs for testing.

A key differentiator is this academic-like environment — insert productization, and it’s a formula for astronomical advancements.

“It’s important to get creative and go deep on problem-solving, that’s the way you make true progress,” Jeff Poore said. “We try to do fewer things so we can develop the very best solutions.”

employees at a conference room table

Numerica employees gather in a conference room for a weekly brainstorm session, 2019.

Looking at today, but focused on tomorrow

Numerica became a reality due to Aubrey Poore’s persistent focus and the environment fostered at CSU. “The opportunity with IBM was a unique one. I am thankful to the CSU Math Department, the College of Natural Sciences and the university for supporting this effort,” Poore said.

Originally from Atlanta, Poore attended Georgia Tech and eventually Caltech. After a drive through Fort Collins, however, he was convinced that CSU offered everything he was seeking. With the flexibility to investigate the field of numerical optimization and control, the university environment helped spur some of Poore’s greatest accomplishments.

With optimism about future generations and technology, Poore hopes to leave a humble legacy of “good science.”

Currently, Poore serves on the board of directors at Numerica and enjoys monthly breakfasts with past CSU colleagues where they often reminisce about those early days and thrilling eureka moments.