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Arlington Startup Aims to Save Sharks with Artificial Intelligence

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations. 

(Updated at 4 p.m.) JJ Linser and Jack Linkous have a dream. They want to save sharks, and they want to do it with artificial intelligence.

They are the co-founders of L2Platforms, a startup in Arlington founded earlier this year, that aims to use an AI program to track boat movements and identify suspicious behavior.

“Visualize different places where this fishing is taking place as a huge map,” said Linser. “We want to figure out, based on previous illegal fishing activity, where that is currently happening. It’s all about tracking those patterns.”

Right now, Linkous says the only way to really catch illegal shark fishing is through random searches. Linkous says the aim of L2Platforms is to help direct those searches and make them a little less random.

“With limited resources, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Linser. “Right now, we’re trying to refine that.”

Using publically available data sources, L2Platforms should be able to model where illegal fishing takes places.

Linser said all of this data is fed into an AI that continually learns from these events and builds a map of suspicious activity. It’s a lot of data, there might be 100,000 suspicious events registered drawn from billions of points of data, but the AI will refine those events down to ones where it is 90 percent sure something illegal is occurring.

Because of the scale of the data being collected and processed, Linser and Linkous say they want to start small.

“We’re going to start with a place like the Galapagos islands,” said Linkous. “There’s a lot of sharks around there and a lot of nefarious fishing. We’ll start small with [tracking that] and grow from there.”

The development of the AI technology behind L2Platforms is largely drawn from Linser and Linkous’s experience working in the defense industry.

“We both have experience writing these kinds of models,” said Linkous. “I come from a defense background and you see these same types of stuff being funded at the Department of Defense. We want to use our knowledge in fields that get less love.”

The pair is currently working with Neil Hammerschlag, director of the Shark Research & Conservation Program (SRC) at The University of Miami.

“[Linser and Linkous] have been supporting my shark research with their impressive skill-set,” said Hammerschlag in an email. “It is an exciting collaboration. In addition, we have conceived an exciting collaborative research project that uses artificial intelligence to inform shark conservation efforts. We are currently seeking funding for this research project.”

Linser said L2Platforms is currently looking at working with conservation foundations for funding, then possibly looking at government grants starting in 2019. If they can secure funding, Linser says they hope to hire a small team of engineers over the next year.

Linser and Linkous, who met while walking their dogs, are both Arlington residents. They are working from home for now, but say they are currently looking for an office somewhere along a Metro corridor in Arlington, specifically because of the technical talent in the area.

“Arlington is where we have a core group of engineers that we know,” said Linser. “There are lots of talented software engineers in this area.”

Photo courtesy Neil Hammerschlag

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