It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that without effective communications and data sharing, homeland security as we have come to understand it could not exist.
And to many people, “effective communications” is synonymous with access to the internet. So what do homeland security professionals do in the many scenarios where the internet is not available or reliable?
One of the most innovative tech firms working on this problem is Ditto. Ditto doesn’t make a homeland security or travel facilitation “product” per se, but its database software — which enables devices of all types to synchronize and share data in real-time, even where the internet doesn’t reach — could be a gamechanger for travel and homeland security scenarios where fast, resilient communications are critical. In November of this year, the company raised $9 million in seed funding from Amity Ventures and True Ventures.
AGX sat down with Adam Fish, Ditto’s CEO and co-founder to understand the company’s technology, why airlines like Etihad and JAL are using it, and its ambition to be part of any application that needs to sync data.
How did Ditto get started?
The physical world now runs on mobile software, but everyone is still building software that relies on central servers. If that server goes down or is unreachable, the security of your physical world goes down – this is unacceptable.
My co-founder, Max Alexander, and I started Ditto in 2018 to build a software platform where apps could sync data in real-time and even without an internet connection. This enables resilient communication in mission-critical environments. But the roots of Ditto for me go back to 2012. I relocated to San Francisco while building a small startup developing a mobile CRM application. One of the key features of the app was it could work offline, which was a big deal for sales reps driving around with limited internet access.
Customers really liked our CRM. But after a year of building out this application, I realized that on a personal level, CRM was not something I was deeply passionate about. But the ability to make apps work well, regardless of connectivity, was a massive problem I was passionate about. This led me to join Realm, which had developed a database for mobile applications, and where I met Max. When Realm was acquired by MongoDB, we started Ditto.
“We are focused on situations where there are connectivity challenges in mission-critical environments. This naturally pulled us into aviation, where today we are working with Etihad and Japan Airlines.”
What is Ditto?
Ditto is software that enables applications to securely and easily sync data in real-time even without the internet. For example, it enables mobile devices to share data with other devices nearby devices using WIFI or Bluetooth capabilities embedded in these devices. But it’s not just limited to mobile devices. Ditto can be used for a broad range of use cases, and our ambition is to be the underlying “pipes” behind any application that needs to sync data.
You said earlier that this is a big problem. Why is that?
AF: It used to be that data lived in big, centralized mainframes or servers. But now data lives in devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, or even cars – as well as in the cloud and traditional servers. In order to handle this new world where data lives everywhere, you need a new type of infrastructure.
That sounds a lot more powerful than a simple database.
AF: It is! The analogy I like to use is power generation. Just as power generation is becoming de-centralized from big powerplants to rooftop solar panels, data is proliferating to devices away from centralized servers – yet all that data still needs to be shared and synced, even in situations where there is limited or no connectivity. This kind of environment requires a database like Ditto that can run anywhere – on servers, smartphones, embedded devices – ensuring there is no single point of failure.
What are some real-world use cases you can share?
We are focused on situations where there are connectivity challenges in mission-critical environments. This naturally pulled us into aviation, where today we are working with Etihad and Japan Airlines. One use case is the need for flight attendants and passengers to communicate or track meals and inventory in flight when there is limited or no connectivity. This then expands into helping pilots share Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) data in the cockpit to maintenance workers in the hangar tracking parts – any situation where there are groups of people or machines working in difficult connectivity environments is a perfect application for Ditto.
What about defense and homeland security applications?
AF: There are many applications for Ditto in these areas. The US Air Force has said that one of its top strategic goals is to build and maintain resilient and interoperable communications networks. One major initiative is the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program which is aiming to connect all systems from tactical to strategic to enable faster and better decision making. We believe Ditto is the foundation for efforts like this, and we are really proud to have recently won several AFWERX contracts that will help them use our technology to accomplish that.
On the homeland security side, we are starting a pilot at a US port to get cargo inspection scanning data securely and quickly from where it is collected to a remote command center where it can be analyzed. This is a big deal because ports are environments where connectivity can be a challenge.
I know your newsletter has covered technologies related to event security, so I should also mention that on the commercial side, we’re now working with an app called Hugo, which is very popular in Central America. One of Hugo’s services is electronic ticketing for sports events and live venues. Connectivity is not always reliable in those settings, so Hugo is using Ditto to make sure its app can work, and people can enter a venue even when normal internet service is not available.
How do you go to market? Who are your customers?
One way is to work with companies building applications in their vertical, i.e., defense or border security. If your application needs resilient connectivity, you should talk to us. We’ve also worked with end-users – that’s how we got started with Etihad and Japan Airlines. It is easy to try Ditto out: just go to our website, set up a test account, and try out the software. Once developers realize that we can solve their connectivity challenges, it’s surprising and impressive to see what they come up with using our technology.
Where does Ditto go from here?
Our ambition is for Ditto to be a default part of the solution for someone building an application. That’s a big goal! It will take time for us to get there, but we have a great team that is totally committed to what we are trying to achieve.
Adam, that’s a great place to end it. Thanks for your insights.
To learn more about Ditto, visit ditto.live. If you know of an innovative, early-stage homeland security technology firm that deserves the spotlight, contact email@example.com.