abraham lama solomon, co-founder of gnext

Meet Abraham Lama Salomon: A Q&A with gNext co-founder and CEO

Every day a structure will fail in the United States. Trains derail, bridges fail, and levees break.

It’s no question that our infrastructure is aging. So much so, that the federal government approved a $1.2 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure investment at the end of 2021. Yet, Abraham Lama Salomon recognized the dire state of infrastructure back in 2018 when he launched the gNext platform alongside his brother, Samil Lama.

gNext is a SaaS platform built to support infrastructure inspection by combining drone-captured data with artificial intelligence and 3D modeling. The service was designed to enable infrastructure inspectors to safely, accurately, and collaboratively analyze assets from a safe, remote location. These scalable tools are the future of inspection automation and will empower asset managers to repair and rebuild our aging infrastructure.

Get to Know gNext’s Co-Founder & CEO

In the Q&A, we get to know Salomon and hear how he had the foresight to create a tool that could streamline infrastructure asset inspection processes.

Q: Let’s start at the very beginning. Tell us about your experience growing up outside of the United States.

I grew up in the Dominican Republic — where it’s always summer. The people are very friendly and welcoming there, and there was never a beach too far away.

My family is basically all engineers. My father and older brother are civil engineers, my mother is a doctor, and my younger brother is in computer science. It’s hard to grow up in that kind of family and not have lofty goals for yourself.

When I was trying to decide my career path, it was really hard to choose. I loved engineering as a whole, but I also loved computer science. I was also very good at math. But in the Dominican Republic, you can’t be a physicist or a mathematician and have a successful career path.

I ended up pursuing an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering in the Dominican Republic.

Q: So how did you end up in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech?

I wanted to pursue my Master’s in Civil Engineering in the United States, but the cost of living in the United States is significantly higher compared to the Dominican Republic so I had to find somewhere that would provide financial aid.

I visited a lot of schools and really liked Virginia Tech. So, I applied for and received a Fullbright Scholarship and was able to begin my Master’s coursework in 2012.

Q: And how did your time at Virginia Tech inspire and equip you to start gNext?

When I got there, I wanted to learn as much as possible. I had funding to attend from the scholarship, but I also wanted to do funded research for my thesis. I connected with one of my professors at the time and asked what kind of funding was available for research.

He became my advisor and my first research project focused on improving the use of corrosion-resistant rebar in concrete on bridges. We were looking for ways to protect the steel from salt and other chemicals that can cause the pieces to erode and weaken the bridge. That was my first delve into infrastructure management.

Q: When did you decide to add Computer Science into the mix?

As I mentioned before, my younger brother is a computer scientist, so I already had an inclination toward that kind of work too. At Virginia Tech, I loved doing research outside of engineering. I got introduced to other concepts that can relate to engineering but are of a different area of expertise.

In 2013, I started working with drones and learning Computer Vision. I saw how drone technology and artificial intelligence was starting to evolve. I began to see how, in the future, there could be a solution where drones could fly automatically and collect data on infrastructure. That data could then be processed with artificial intelligence to make inspection safer and more cost-effective.

I really fell in love with that future and I wanted to be part of the group of people pushing to make that vision a reality.

Q: That’s really powerful. So how did you make that happen?

I was offered an opportunity to pursue my P.hD. in Structural Engineering and Materials and was able to choose my own path for the research. I wanted to combine engineering knowledge with computer vision and AI. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of the background needed for the computer science side of things so a year into my P.h.D. program, I also started pursuing my Master of Computer Science.

My goal was to start the gNext platform when I graduated. I finished my P.h.D. at the end of 2016 and by the next spring, 2017, gNext was born.

Q: So this wasn’t always your plan for your career. Talk about your original plan and why you felt compelled to pivot.

Originally, I planned to go back to the Dominican Republic after my Master’s, but I fell in love with this idea. I knew I wouldn’t be able to pursue it in the Dominican Republic because the platform requires a big system of infrastructure to work with.

Aging infrastructure has been a hot topic in the United States for as long as I’ve been here. Bridges fail every three days. Trains derail every day. There are so many data points that supported the decision.

Working in engineering, I saw how much inspectors’ safety was at risk trying to investigate these issues. The idea for the platform was a great way to improve infrastructure and ultimately save lives — whether it’s eliminating risk for the inspectors or preventing a major failure that puts citizens in danger.

I sacrificed the opportunity to return home to stay here and pursue this dream.

Q: gNext is very much a startup. Talk about those early days of getting everything up and running.

I started gNext with my brother, Samil. We leveraged my background in engineering and computer science to develop the inspection features of the platform and used Samil’s expertise in cloud computing and web development to support the platform’s functionality and promotion.

We started with an analysis of the market and writing out a business plan. We wanted our role in the inspection process to focus on providing a data analytics system. We’d work with entities developing and flying drones, assist in the data management, and, of course, inspection service providers.

The clear path was to follow the SaaS business model to create a cloud-based platform that would support a large database to develop the AI.

Q: Since launching in 2017, how did you achieve the growth that you’ve seen over the past five years?

We started with some Proof of Concept projects to provide that the platform could solve the inspection problems we were targeting. Shortly after we started, we were excited to see that regulations for flying drones changed in the U.S., meaning more people would be able to become drone pilots and that side of the industry would boom.

With some Proof of Concepts in hand, and promise that there would be enough drones to support expansion, we started seeking out investors. I didn’t have a full-time job at the time and was living on my savings, so I was very motivated to get the company off the ground. A year later, we closed on an investment deal with Commonwealth Capital.

Through this deal, we connected with our President, Russ Ellis. He loved the idea and wanted to work with us. We needed someone experienced in driving business growth so it was the perfect fit. We hired a team with the investment money, built out the system, and began providing support.

Q: How have you seen both your platform and the industry grow and change?

With technology, you can always expect to work with about 5–10% of the market as early adopters or innovators. In the early days, we challenged a lot of naysayers in the beginning who didn’t think the technology would be able to capture the tiny details that inspectors need. Through demos, we were able to easily combat that.

Now, the market has changed a lot. While we’re still the only platform combining these technologies, more and more companies are being created to support the inspection process.

Q: What are some of the features you’ve added since launching the platform? What is the process for identifying and implementing new features?

We typically add features based on customer demand. Our dedication to customer support is just as important as the technology. So luckily, when you combine both of those goals, you can create a lot of helpful, custom features for clients.

We constantly meet with customers and prospects and develop features based on their needs. Three of the major ones are automated 3D modeling, video modeling, and data model editing. All three have been great tools to help inspectors have multiple viewpoints and opportunities to communicate and collaborate.

Q: Where do you see the gNext platform and the inspection industry going next?

I see gNext as a way to help support the inspection market for different assets — not replace the current model of inspection.

With the help of this platform, we can significantly reduce the cost of inspection and maintenance. Machine learning can identify defects that they wouldn’t typically catch in the field. They’ll spend less time collecting data in the field, and more time interpreting the data and collaborating on solutions.

The cost-savings benefits of the platform are undeniable. For example, one of our partners has saved 60% of costs by using drones and our cloud-based platform. With the expanded infrastructure spending, we’ll be working with consultants hired by state departments of transportation to show how much more their budget can be used for with these savings.

When inspecting one asset becomes faster, easier, and more cost-effective, that frees up time and resources to inspect more and more assets.

In 2022, our main focus will be developing artificial intelligence and machine learning even more. We’ll be releasing more analytics for specific markets like cell towers and wind turbines. The tracking and analytics will enable inspectors to extract key information automatically.

Q: So you’re starting to see that future become a reality?

Yes, definitely. We’ve achieved what we wanted to by building this platform on the cloud and automating data collection and we’re starting to see how it’s impacting the market. It’s great.

Q: If you could get one message across about the value of the gNext platform — what would it be?

It’s really all about how the system enables efficiency, accuracy, and collaboration at multiple touchpoints in the process.

It’s not just about the inspection. But it’s also about the management of inspection.

It’s helpful for the inspectors to know about the current state of the asset is. But it also enables those who need to manage the asset to better understand what to do with their budgets and decision-making to identify which repairs to prioritize. The teams can communicate with each other about all of that on this platform.

We expect that by having a history of records of their assets — and with the help of machine learning — we will hopefully be able to estimate when something could fail.

Looking Toward the Future

With the technological advancements that gNext and its partners are bringing to the infrastructure industry, we can expect to see the latest infrastructure investment make an even bigger impact on the safety of our bridges, buildings, rail networks, and more.

As infrastructure continues to age, our scalable tools will future-proof the inspection automation process. Our platform is available on a SaaS basis in a secure cloud-based inspection and analytics platform to provide the power to visualize your data and gather valuable analytics in a secure, scalable, and collaborative environment.

If you’re interested in partnering with gNext or would like to request a demo, leave us a message! Together, we can make build a safer tomorrow.

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