Safe space travel with Sciss

The Sciss company arose during the aftermath of the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003. LiU alumnus Staffan Klashed was head of the company for its first 12 years, and today Sciss markets the planetariums and experiences it has developed all over world.

Spacecraft ColumbiaSpacecraft Columbia in 1983 Photo credit: NASAIt was 1 February 2003, at the end of its 28th mission, that the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Seven astronauts were killed. A demonstration of the first virtual space flight was planned for the following day in Paris.

The software for the first demonstration had been developed by Staffan Klashed as a degree project at Linköping University, during which he had worked at the American Museum of National History in New York. So Staffan Klashed was ready in Paris on 2 February, together with the director of astrovisualisation at the museum, Carter Emmart.

“I had worked hard to get the demo ready in time, and hadn’t slept for several nights. Carter Emmart gave a presentation from the stage, while I sat behind him and made the final adjustments to make sure that everything worked. Carter, who had a true passion for space flight, was deeply affected by the accident, and began by lighting seven candles for the dead astronauts. The following performance was magical, and several members of the audience were openly weeping,” Staffan Klashed remembers.

Uniview

Sitting in the audience in Paris that day was the managing director of Silicon Graphics.
“It was he who got me thinking in terms of a product and a company. Silicon Graphics tried to get us onboard, but several others were also interested,” he recalls.

What distinguished the software, Uniview, from competing products was that it could handle a wide range of scale, in both time and space, from the miniscule to the infinite.

“We were the only ones who could deal with this,” says Staffan Klashed.

Staffan travelled home to Norrköping and started to work with Professor Anders Ynnerman, building up what would subsequently become Visualization Center C. In the meantime, two further students of media technology and engineering, Per Hemmingsson and Martin Rasmusson, travelled to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and continued to develop the software as part of their degree projects.

Start of Sciss

“When they returned home, we drummed up together the courage needed to start the Sciss company. That we dared to take the risk probably also depends on the entrepreneurial spirit in Norrköping. Anything new was immediately in the spotlight,” says Staffan Klashed.

The business initially focussed on developing and marketing Uniview to planetariums, creating relationships and keeping delivery deadlines.

Staffan Klashed“We became subcontractors to several large companies, and got caught up in their growth,” he says.

Life as a subcontractor, however, became progressively more difficult, and the idea of developing their own technology for planetariums arose.

The company constructed the first planetarium based on its ColorSpace technology at a high school outside New York in 2012, helped by Carter Emmart’s contacts. This was the start of a deluge.

“We sold planetariums to cities and countries such as Macao, Vancouver and Malta, and the company grew rapidly.

After 12 years as managing director, Staffan Klashed left the company in 2015, passing the baton to Johan Sköld. The SCISS technology ColorSpace Theater has now been installed at more than 150 science centres around the world, at facilities such as NASA and the ESA, and at planetariums such as the Hayden Planetarium in New York, the Moscow Planetarium, and the California Academy of Sciences.

The feeling and experiences he gained during that first demo in Paris have driven Staffan Klashed onwards to new projects, this time within virtual reality.

“I want to offer people amazing experiences that affect them deeply,” he says.

This article is also published in LiU Magazine 3 2017

 

 


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