Between Two Points

Between Two Points

Primordial’s software is gaining ground with the military. Next target: smartphones.

We’ve spent the last eight years developing and patenting our products,” says Randy Milbert, founder and president of St. Paul–based software firm Primordial. “Now, the sky’s the limit.”

In fact, Primordial’s work is more focused on terra firma, though atmospheric technology also is involved. Its signature product is Ground Guidance, a GPS-based software developed for the U.S. military that displays and recommends travel routes over unmarked terrain.

“It will show a soldier the fastest way to get over a mountain in Afghanistan, for example,” Milbert says. “And it can map out the safest way to get from point A to point B on a battlefield.” Existing GPS systems, he says, typically give only straight-line routes, which can take the user through dangerous and unnavigable terrain.

Ground Guidance is a component of the Land Warrior program being developed by giant defense contractor General Dynamics. Land Warrior displays maps and other information to soldiers on screens attached to their helmets. “Everything is meant to be intuitive and to reduce the need to look down,” Milbert says. Ground Guidance will be undergoing new-equipment training with U.S. Special Forces this year. According to U.S. Army GPS product integration engineer Mike Vincelli, the software gives personnel “the flexibility to change their routes on the go and in response to threats, something that is paramount in combat.”

An MIT electrical-engineering graduate, Milbert worked for a Massachusetts software start-up before founding Primordial in his parents’ Minnesota home. “I basically hounded the Army until they agreed to let me present my ideas to them,” he says. Federal grants of $100,000 and $750,000 got the firm moving.

Milbert and his dozen or so colleagues at Primordial are developing similar programs for nonmilitary use. “MapQuest and Google can get you where you need to go via roads,” he says. “But hunters and hikers can use our software to plan out a route to the Half Dome at Yosemite.”

Primordial software is already being used in applications for Nokia phones and iPhones. The Minnesota company has chosen to sell its software to developers rather than competing directly in the app market.

Primordial’s revenues for 2010 were $2.1 million. “Right now, it’s about 80 percent military and 20 percent consumer, but those numbers should flip in about five years,” Milbert predicts.