Unknown Android. Chapter 6: Steve Perlman

The landlord had almost evicted him, so the phone conversation between Andy Rubin and Steve Perlman was a bit high-strung.

— When do you need the money?

— Now!

— Well, I’ll be sure to get it as soon as possible.

— Maybe a little sooner would be better.

Perlman went to the bank, withdrew ten thousand dollars in hundred dollar banknotes and brought the money to Rubin’s office. It is rumored that the total sum invested was a hundred thousand dollars, which was enough to put the business plan into action and move the office to Palo Alto. While Rubin commented on the venture in pessimistic tones, Perlman was driven by his faith in the project and his desire to help his friend and former colleague in spite of others’ disbelief:

“They said, ‘Steve, come on. He’d have to sell at a least a million of those things for it to break even. He’s trying to boil the ocean’”.

But what made Perlman stand out from the other venture capitalists in all the 25 years of his work was his gut instinct: by the end of September 2015, the Android platform was estimated to have 1.5 billion users.

The phone call to Steve Perlman probably determined the fate of the mobile platform. But what makes Perlman truly deserving of fame in the eyes of the public apart from his role in Android? It’s difficult to grasp the scope of his technical genius: more than 150 patents belonging to Perlman are present in the USPTO database.

The mere mention of QuickTime, whether as the technology, the framework or the media player, will lead you to a whole range of trademarks that incorporated QuickTime into their products, starting from everything that comes from Apple’s assembly lines. QuickTime’s precursor was the Road Pizza videocodec implemented in the colored-display Macintosh machine which was the first personal computer that played video – all the way back in 1985.

Creating technologies that would bring to life artificial worlds and merge them with each other was Perlman’s dream since he was a teenager. As a child, he was fascinated by how his father lit up a lightbulb using a battery. Simple experiments were then complemented with new hobbies like photography, cinema, animation and claymation. In high school, Steve finally assembled his first computer. Since childhood, when his parents bought him an Apple II, he nurtured the idea of putting up his own machine and graphics display to let him design and play his own games. Young Perlman’s technical skills also helped him graduate, covering for shortcomings in some of the other disciplines. To pass his English class he constructed an illuminated pavilion for the drama club, while a computer-simulated analysis of the rises and falls in the US economy in the XIX century dealt with his missing History assignments.

Having graduated from the Columbia University in 1983, Perlman still maintained ties to the video gaming world, as he was working on graphical innovations in Atari and Coleco products. Game design was a serious, long-living passion for Perlman. In 1994, he became the co-founder of Catapult Entertainment, which gave Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo fans the XBAND modem that allowed multiplayer through a phone line.

The developers of The Godfather, From Russia with Love and Eragon used Steve’s MOVA motion-capture technology in their games. The OnLive cloud service, well-known among gamers, was also a creation of Perlman’s. This ambitious start-up was released in 2009 and pioneered the “Games on Demand” distributor principle, in which the user is granted online access to the game immediately after payment without buying the DVD. By 2011, more than 30 games were present in the service’s catalogue. This menace to videogame piracy, however, went bankrupt in 2012 and was sold to one of the investors, and Perlman left the company. OnLive was closed down for good after Sony sold its assets in April 2015.

The WebTV multimedia technology that was created in 1995 was a milestone in its field. Co-founder, president and CEO all at once, Perlman was a charismatic leader and a visionary. He predicted the unification of TV and the Internet in 2000, and phenomena like Smart TV and Netflix confirm his prognosis.

Consistent in his predictions, he foresaw the death of the video parlor: “People will find it easier to download movies, and this will diminish the role of video parlors. Right now, 90% of their business rests on a hundred popular movies, but in the next five years these movies will already be available inside the TV screen, leaving video parlors out of the picture”. 20 months after its creation, WebTV was bought by Microsoft and renamed to MSN TV, and two years later, Perlman left his multiple job positions. The Forrester Research consulting agency remarked that the industry had lost its leader. But soon after his departure, the leader predicted the development of the industry with the confidence of someone holding the prototype of the future in his hands.

“In the next five years you’ll have cable and satellite systems connected to set top boxes with a capacity of 500 GB and 500 hours. You’ll see plasma screens with integrated storage that’ll be three inches thick so you can hang them on a wall, like a painting, and they’ll be capable of storing 1000 hours of video or 200 hours of HDTV. TV sets will be plugged into a socket that leads to the media hub connected to a broadband channel, without any need for a receiver”.

In 2000, Perlman founded the Rearden business incubator, where he continued to make his dream of merging the everyday world with the world of high technologies true, providing financial and management support to anyone who came to him with a ground-breaking idea in the sphere of media, technology and new art forms. Perlman had plenty of his own ideas, too, and using Rearden resources he launched technologies like the aforementioned OnLive, Contour Reality Capture and the Artemis company. As is customary for an incubator, these technologies were nurtured for years and presented to the public only in a fully complete state.

Contour Reality Capture is not a famous technology, but hundreds of millions of people have seen it in action when Brad Pitt was reverse-aging in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or when Tim Roth’s character transformed into a green mutant in “The Incredible Hulk”. The man behind this magic is Steve Perlman.

Mova Contour implements the Motion Capture concept in its own distinct way, tracking facial movements using two synchronized groups of cameras. The actor’s face is covered with fluorescent powder and video capture is done at 120 frames per second and in 100.000 polygons per frame resolution, creating a precise digital model that makes working with facial gestures easy and flexible.

The team that developed this technology, led by Perlman, was presented with the “Best Visual Effects” award by the Academy of Motion Picture, and some of the movies that used Mova Contour are “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “Gravity”.

Perlman is the co-founder and CEO of the Artemis Networks company, which mainly deals with the DIDO (Distributed-Input-Distributed-Output) wireless data transmission technology. In February 2014, Perlman presented to the Columbia University a DIDO-powered cellular network called pCell, a brand of Artemis Network, raising high hopes for this new technology.

The most popular wireless network at the present moment is 4G LTE, in which signal bandwidth is shared by the devices – the more devices are present, the lower the data throughput and higher the signal distortion. During the demonstration of Artemis, a bunch of iPhones were all placed in the area of coverage of a small pCell network, and the phones easily displayed different video streams while sharing the same bandwidth. This was considered impossible before, and the technology has already had its share of skeptical comments. We will see whether the skeptics are right or wrong in Autumn 2016, when the first pCell-based network covers the entire San Francisco and Artemis Network SIM cards hit the stores.

Personality
Steve Perlman
Android