Alumnus Shares Entrepreneurial Experience with Villanova Engineers

 Ed Dougherty ’69 EE, ’86 MSCS
Ed Dougherty ’69 EE, ’86 MSCS

From setting up lemonade stands with his sister to taking home appliances apart and successfully putting them back together, Ed Dougherty ’69 EE, ’86 MSCS discovered his love for exploring new ventures at an early age.  By the time he became a Villanova Engineering student, his curiosity had grown even stronger. Inspired by the ever-changing landscape of technology, Dougherty decided to pursue a career uncovering new technological solutions for everyday problems.

Dougherty’s first job was with Ford Motor Company where, as part of their government services group, he helped design an optical character recognition system for reading envelopes for the U.S. Postal Service. Two years later, he joined the Franklin Institute Research Laboratories, which included contract work for federal programs and corporate clients. There he designed flight simulators for NASA, car simulators for Mercedes Benz, and one of the first real-time, portable chemical detection systems for sniffing out bomb-making facilities, human presence and drugs. One project that he is particularly proud of benefited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s wildlife research. Dougherty designed technology that tracked California gray whales via satellite and recorded water temperatures and depths to understand their migratory habits. He was told that his technology collected “more data on whales than in the total of humankind’s history.”

When FIRL was sold in the early 1980s, Dougherty decided the time was right to start his own company. Together with lab colleague George Simmons ’87 MSCS—who now is the College’s Multidisciplinary Lab director—he launched August Design, a name inspired by St. Augustine with a mission of serving the greater good. “We wanted to be a boutique design firm working on projects that would benefit society and that we found fun and technically challenging.”

After years of working on government projects, August Design established a strong reputation that led to a call from CSX, a national railroad freight company. Seeking an alternative to manually unloading cargo from multiple cars at each stop, Dougherty’s team developed programming  using artificial intelligence to efficiently and cost effectively organize the train’s freight. Impressed by his work, CSX invited him to Hong Kong to develop software to address related challenges. His solutions saved the company millions of dollars.

Out of hundreds of projects, Dougherty’s most recognized work is the design of Garrett Brown’s award-winning invention Skycam. Skycam is a computer-controlled, stabilized, cable-suspended camera system used by ESPN, ABC and the NFL. As a result of its success, Dougherty and Simmons built Wavecam, a smaller aerial robotic camera system intended for indoor use.  It is used by a number of universities, including Villanova.

August Design developed several other sports-related technologies over the years, but the product Dougherty is most proud of is an award-winning, child-safety-focused smoke detector, which enables parents to create a custom-voice recording providing children with detailed instructions for what to do in the event of a fire. The product was sold nationwide.

After selling August Design in 2001, Dougherty reached out to his alma mater and asked how he could share his passion for creativity and innovation. A conversation with leadership led to the College incorporating entrepreneurial material into coursework, first through senior design projects and then through a collaboration with the Villanova School of Business. In 2007, Villanova received funding to develop an Engineering Entrepreneurship program. Since then, with Dougherty at the helm, the College has developed a minor and graduate certificate, and has embedded entrepreneurial minded learning in more than 30 engineering courses.

When he’s not teaching, Dougherty continues to work on a variety of unique and exciting projects, three of which currently are in the pipeline. His role at Villanova allows him to continually explore new technologies and project ideas with students. He says, “I never want to stop learning; it’s my hobby. Honestly, I can’t believe I get paid to have fun doing what I love!”