Paul Boxer started his career as an engineer with General Motors but had an interest in software and Artificial Intelligence. In 1999, he decided to go back to university to do a PhD in Artificial Intelligence. He then founded Sentient so as to develop a computer vision system for future robotics. 

“Of course, we eventually needed income, so we decided to build something we could sell, an AI product, called iSentry. It was way ahead of its time. It used AI to learn to detect unusual behaviour in CCTV footage. But like typical start-up founders, we didn’t know how to commercialize it. Eventually, we got resellers interested, and, skipping forward several years, the same resellers bought the IP,” said Dr. Boxer. 

During the early days of his company, the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organization bought an iSentry license from them. 

“When we visited to install it, they showed us a very early MTI (Moving Target Indication) program they were developing. Unfortunately, it was 1,000 times slower than real-time. I asked if they would be interested in doing that in real-time. They were and agreed to buy our very first MTI license if we could demo it,” he said.

He went on to explain that the only airborne imagery they could find at that time was a scene from Lord of the Rings, so their first version of MTI software tracked Gandalf riding through a forest. It worked, and they received further support to develop another project. “That was back in 2005. It was our first big break and it led on to our first sales into the Australian Defence Force,” he added. 

Dr. Paul Boxer was selected as a Game Changer for the October/November 2020 issue of Vanguard. 

What is your role in your organization today?

Sixteen years on, I’m still the CEO for Sentient but prefer to act in more of an oversight role. I have a very talented Business Leadership Team that handles the day-to-day operations, allowing me to focus on other things. This ensures we’ve got resources to handle important issues when they inevitably pop up. 

What was your most challenging moment?

The first time you think “we could go broke”. That was back in 2011. The company was growing, our cash burn rate was high. Cash flow was an issue and we came close to running out of money. I asked many of the team if they’d consider working for sweat equity and most of them did. It saved the company and worked well. We got through it and I’m extremely proud and indebted to the team from those days. Mind you, those that did participate are now sitting on a 10x return on their investment, which is a nice silver lining.

What was your “aha” moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?

My most recent epiphany came recently on March 31st, 2020, when I was tracking COVID-19 numbers. All eyes were focused on Italy and Europe. I found a brilliant analytics website,, which presented the tracking data in a far more useful way than anywhere else. It allowed me to realize what the less-developed countries such as Indonesia and India were facing later this year. I felt I had an opportunity, if not an obligation, to do something about it. That’s when I got fired up…… 

What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?

Well, there are two things that have me fired up. One sounds boring and the other sounds amazing and practically unachievable. 

The ‘boring’ one is our move into vertical integration. Yeah, I can feel everyone’s eyes glazing over now. But it’s important for our business. We used to be only software developers, but now we have extended into hardware design. We’ve recently built up a large team of engineers designing new ViDAR pods to cover a wide range of applications. We’re discovering this technology has a lot of new applications and we have a cornucopia of new, potentially highly profitable projects to pursue. We’re growing as fast as we can and we’re looking to take on more projects than ever before, but we’re always having to prioritize which projects get the attention. We’re even having to consider turning away business from long-term customers. It’s a curious situation to be in.

The other thing is amazing, and sometimes I must pinch myself to reconsider if it’s even achievable. About five months ago, we realized the third-world countries were facing a tsunami of COVID-19 cases. I didn’t want to be sitting back on my couch watching that disaster unfold over the next year and thinking, “I could’ve done something to help”. So, I suggested to our team that we set about developing a low-cost ventilator for these less-developed countries. Turns out we were one of over 70 teams with the same idea. But we were wrong! The third world doesn’t need ventilators, and ventilators don’t help COVID as they did with polio. COVID needs oxygen therapy more than ventilators. So, we’ve developed a low-cost Oxygen Concentrator machine, called “SentOx”, and we’re building them now. We’re also scaling up to have other manufacturers and in-country suppliers assemble them. We aim to save a million lives. Our motivation is if the only thing they can write on your headstone is ‘He tried to save a million lives but only saved a thousand’, it was still a life well-lived. We estimate we need to get 7,400 machines out into the world. Who knows if that is possible? But that’s what’s firing me up now. Shoot for the stars and land on the moon.

What is the best advice you received?

After 30 years in companies big and small, I’ve received SO MUCH good advice I could write a book with hundreds of good advice “one-liners”. The challenge is that the best advice depends on what’s needed by the person receiving it. For instance, the best advice for my kids would be “always do what your Dad says”! 

For me if I had to choose one piece of advice that I have always valued highly, it is, “a good leader must be comfortable with uncertainty”. So many people feel insecure not knowing how things are going to work out, not knowing exactly what will happen. This can drive them to be detailed planners. The leader can’t afford to do that. They must see a lot farther. Many things can remain undefined for a long way into the future. A good leader recognizes that much of the detail will remain unknown for a long time but is comfortable with the knowledge that when the time comes, we will find an answer to those questions.

What is a habit that contributes to your success?

I’m not a person of many habits, but the one that has probably had the most impact has been my daily planner. It’s still an old paper-based planner from 1996. My tech team occasionally chuckles about my use of a paper-based system, to which I reply, “It is un-hackable, works 24/7, and never needs charging”. But it works. They know, if I make a note in there, they’re going to be followed up on it.

What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset? 

I think individual people are the drivers of innovation, more than organizations – Steve Jobs more than Apple, Bill Gates more than Microsoft, and Jeff Bezos more than Amazon. Some organizations try to develop processes to generate more innovation within the organization but it’s a difficult challenge. It’s hard to make people innovative if they’re not inclined that way. I think the best approach for an organization is to find the innovative people within the organization, recognize them, motivate them, and give them the responsibility and authority to innovate. Then let them do it.

I also believe innovation is best driven when there is a commercial imperative. I find an entrepreneur-driven business is likely to be far more successful at innovation than a committee-driven university. I’m usually underwhelmed by a university’s ability to develop and deliver innovation to society, at least in my corner of the world.

When it comes to who best embodies the innovation mindset, my personal favourite is Elon Musk and the innovation he has fostered in both Tesla and SpaceX. I am a Tesla early adopter and have followed its rise and its amazing, disruptive innovation. It’s a repeatable model based on these two examples. Hopefully, it can become a model for a new way for Western corporations to maintain the higher ground.

How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?

Our ViDAR Optical Radar technology is at the forefront of changing the effectiveness and economics of maritime search. ViDAR autonomously detects and tracks small hard to see objects, such as small rubber boats, fast boats, fishing buoys, and people in the water over vastly greater areas than existing optical approaches. And with low size, weight, and power requirements it can easily be fitted to UAVs and small aircraft enabling significantly more cost-effective use of manpower and equipment whilst increasing search and surveillance capability. 

What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?

One of the biggest impediments to innovation for us is the length of time it takes to have new capability deployed in government and defence programs, and the impact that has on funding further advances for SMEs such as Sentient. Thankfully we have been able to gain support from several defence innovation programs, but the proof of the value of innovation comes when it is making a real difference by being used operationally.

How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?

Innovation has always been at the heart of Sentient’s culture. We have a long history of working with defence, research groups, and industry leaders to develop innovative solutions to complex problems that have resulted in industry-first capabilities for the defence and security industry. As we grow our team, over 60 per cent of whom have PhDs and Masters qualifications, we continue to seek out the brightest and best in our fields from around the globe to drive the company’s success through further innovation.

What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

Our success has been built through advances in AI, computer vision, and leading-edge imagery analysis. Continuing with advances in deep learning and imaging technologies is enabling further breakthroughs in extracting intelligence to provide timely and insightful situational awareness to operators and mission commanders. Coupled with the increasing use of UAVs, we see these combining to greatly increase their effectiveness for a wide range of defence, safety, and security operations. 

What is your parting piece of advice?

Every good leader knows the people are what make any great company great. They know to find their good performers and treat them well, give them challenges, responsibilities, and rewards and let them go at it. Maintaining a positive, collaborative company culture that adheres to our values of Honesty and Integrity, as symbolized by our Kingfisher logo, is one of the strongest assets we have at Sentient. However, it is equally important to keep an eye out for people that don’t fit the company culture. If left unchecked, the toxic behaviour of a couple of individuals can degrade the performance of a great team. At the time, it can be hard to be objective and see the damage that a problem employee causes, particularly if they’ve been a high performer. So, I highly recommend fixing any negative behaviours when they first appear. The good news is, once a bad apple leaves the company, things improve immediately.