Meet The Norwich Firm Working For NASA

Stephen and Tom holding computers

Growing up to be an astronaut is a dream of many children – and Tom Barber was no different.

Now, although he does not get to venture into space, the 34-year-old has achieved a lifelong dream by working for NASA.

Through his data analytics company Spicule he is trying to turn the out-of-this-world skills learnt with the American agency to working with small businesses in Norfolk.

Mr Barber said: “As a child I didn’t want to be a bus driver or a doctor, I wanted to be an astronaut. When the opportunity came to work with NASA, even though I couldn’t be an astronaut, it was cool, it is the next best thing.”

The firm, which is based at Norwich Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia, has worked with or seen its software used by Netflix, the United Nations and US technology agency Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and is now linking up with the Metropolitan Police.

Mr Barber said: “What we are trying to do with Spicule alongside the NASA work is to take that technology and show people in Norfolk how we can us that to improve their business.”

Spicule works primarily using open-source software and creates tools which allow businesses to look at a large amount of data in a simplified form, with the system spotting trends and anomalies.

“If you look at independent retailers in Norwich,” Mr Barber said, “there is so much that can be learned from the data they have.

“If a retailer looks at their data they can see what footfall was but they don’t know what else was happening that day. Our software can look at what the weather was and other factors and bring all of that information together so you can see trends.”

Mr Barber is joined by colleague Stephen Downie at Spicule and the pair have two main projects under way at the moment. The first, for NASA, is what Mr Barber describes as “Google search for genomics” while the second, for DARPA and soon the Met Police, is a tool to trace illegal activity on the dark web – the part of the internet which requires specific software to access.

The company said it had found mentioning some of its high-profile clients could put off local firms who might assume their software would be too complex – but Mr Barber insisted the technology could be adapted for the SME market.

Article written by Doug Faulkner for the Eastern Daily Press.