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DEMO Spring: Quantum Dots About to Move into Camera Sensors

When I scanned through the exhibitor list at Demo Spring in Palm Desert, Calif., InVisage Technologies, a company promising a leap forward in camera sensor technologies with paint-on quantum dot technology, immediately went to the top of my "gotta check this out" list. I was even more intrigued to discover that their Chief Technology Officer, Ted Sargent, had written an article for IEEE Spectrum's February issue explaining the technology. ("Connecting the Quantum Dots.") He hadn't happened to mention that he had a little company about to introduce image sensors into the cell phone market.

DEMO Spring: Neverend Media Says E-books Could be Better

The Alpha-earliest stage-companies at Demo Spring in Palm Desert, Calif., didn't have lot of time to make their case for why the world needs their technology-just 90 seconds. So IEEE Spectrum took a closer look at Neverend Media, whose Neverend electronic books can be constantly updated, annotated, and discussed as they are being read.

DEMO Spring: Flinc Puts a High Tech Twist on Hitchhiking

Flinc is calling their new technology a digital ride sharing system. Come on, call it what it is—high-tech hitchhiking. But besides linking riders and potential drivers who are about to pass nearby and heading for the same destination, Flinc adds a little motivation—it lets drivers sell their services.

DEMO Spring: Companies Launch Social Networks for Doing Good, Tweens

DEMOSpring2010 featured a lot of variations of social networks; in fact, it got so I was relieved when a technology being unveiled didn’t tweet, text, or update its Facebook status. (For one of those, see my videoblog on General Inspection, an automatic parts identification system for hardware stores.)

Two examples—Everloop and KarmaKorn.

Everloop is a social media site for kids who too old for Club Penguin (a website for early elementary schoolers) and are too young for Facebook (thirteen is Facebook Legal). There is an obvious niche here—plenty of tweens, including my 11 year old—are counting the days until they can get their own Facebook pages. Many aren’t waiting—they’re just lying about their ages.

Everloop presents itself as a safe-from-creepers place for tweens to go on the Internet. Unfortunately, Everloop has filled that space with commerce—the kids are given points to buy and sell things, like access to games and video content. And much of what they’re offered to “buy” is intended to be branded—send your friend a Coke, not a generic soda. After watching the Everloop demo, I realized that every niche doesn’t need to be filled. On the plus side, Everloop coined a great description of a demographic--the post-Penguin set.

KarmaKorn has also bought into the points mentality of social network—it calls its points “kernels”, but thinks it can turn a passion for virtual commerce into a force for social good. Folks who sign on with KarmaKorn will start out with some number of kernels in their bank accounts; they can use those kernels to encourage other people to do good things, for themselves or society (take your kids for a walk or give a homeless person a sandwich and I’ll pay 10 kernels), or earn kernels from others. The company plans to keep itself in business by charging large companies who want to position themselves as socially responsible to participate (earn 100 kernels from Weyerhaeuser if you go plant a tree). I don’t totally get the impulse to collect virtual goods on social media, but when I see how many people I know got sucked into Farmville, I have to admit that I know it exists. And if KarmaKorn can get people away from their computers and out helping society, they’re pointing this impulse in the right direction.

Everloop's Demo:

KarmaKorn's Demo:

DEMO Spring: Automatic Emotion Detection Technology Wins Grand Prize

Turns out, that when you’re ticked off, you’re ticked off in any language. This is a good thing for startup company eXaudios Technologies. This Israel-based company has developed software that analyzes volume and intonation changes in a person’s voice and translates that information into statements about the speaker’s feelings and intent. (“You feel disrespect and rejection.” “Patronizing.”) It unveiled this technology in Palm Springs this week at DEMOSpring2010, demonstrating the system live in both English and Hebrew.

EXAudios is planning to sell this technology into call centers, where it can be used to monitor customers and agents, allowing supervisors to step in when a customer’s anger is mounting and, ideally, turn the call around. The technology has other applications—screening for Parkinson’s and other diseases, Homeland Security, but the company thinks it will take off most quickly in the call center world.

This company had all the right stuff—cool technology and an obvious market niche. I can see it having a positive effect on my life—the next time I call Verizon to complain about bizarre charges on my cell phone bill, someone who can actual do something might step into the conversation sooner rather than later.

And I wasn’t the only one who was impressed—eXaudios won the People’s Choice Award—a million dollars worth of advertising on IDG properties.


DEMO Spring: Advice to Future Companies

As a journalist who has attended a number of DEMO conferences, an event at which companies launch new technologies in six minute live demonstrations, I often find myself asked for some advice the night before the presenters take the stage. Tell me, a soon-to-be-presenter will say, what kinds of pitches get your attention, what turns you off.

At that point, it’s too late to make a sudden change in direction. And I don’t want to make someone nervous by inadvertently telling him that everything he's about to do is wrong. It may be wrong for me, but it could work. Maybe. And being nervous isn't going to help anyone. So I try to say something general and get off the subject quickly.

And truthfully, I can’t tell them what makes a six-minute demo great. Mostly, I guess, it’s about the technology itself—does it do more than take a tiny step forward, is it something I can see myself actually wanting, is it something I haven’t seen 10 times before? (And, by that third criteria, all great products are different and unpredictable.)

But there are a couple of things I do know that I like—and don’t like—in a Demo presentation.
—I like to know how much this thing is going to cost. Yes, yes, you have a free trial, free basic subscription, free something; but after that—what are you going to charge?
—I like props. I'll be seeing sixty-plus presentations in two days, some from companies with similar technologies; it gets hard to keep track of them all. At the most recent DemoSpring, one presenter kicked off by smashing a fax machine to bits with a baseball bat—all good, we’ve all wanted to do that. Having a woman do her presentation in handcuffs—that didn't really work for me but it was a noble attempt; it got attention, but I’m not so sure folks remembered much beyond the handcuffs.
—I don't want you to tell me that your social media/shopping/whatever site tosses a tiny percentage of its profits to nonprofits. The fact that you’re making the occasional charitable donation doesn’t make it a breakthrough technology. I don't care and the consumer won't either.
—I don't like hearing that your business model is a three-legged stool, a three-pronged fork, or three of anything. I know three is the magic number in presentations, but it doesn’t help you here. Telling me that you’re going to get revenue through advertising/premium subscribers/white label branding simply tells me have yet to figure out who really wants what you’re selling.
—And, finally, I don't mind if your demo has a few glitches. We know the network goes down, that your server back at home never had a glitch in 10 rehearsals. We do believe it is not your fault. And when the glitches happen, you’ll find everyone in the audience rooting for you to somehow get your message across in spite of what happened. Don’t panic, make an attempt at humor, and realize we’ll at least remember you, and will likely check your booth later to find out what we missed.


Photo: ABJK NewCo Inc. promises the end of the fax machine. Video below.

DEMO Spring: Taking on the Challenge of Internet TV

Many of us are watching TV on our computers. Some of us are browsing the Internet on our TV screens. Neither experience is ideal. TV on our computers is tiny; trying to navigate the Internet with a traditional web browser when the display is a couple of meters away is challenging. And true Internet TV, that is, a seamless convergence of traditional television and Internet content, well, it’s been right around the corner for at least 10 years (though devices—like Roku and Apple TV—are making it less frustrating than it used to be, it's still got a ways to go).

That doesn’t mean folks have given up. And, indeed, the company that finally gets it right could have a huge market. Three companies that launched products at Demo Spring this week in Palm Springs are hoping to do just that.

First of the TV/Internet contenders on Demo stage was ViaClix, based in Los Gatos, Calif. At first glance, ViaClix looked awesome, with its seamless navigation between Internet and regular TV channels. However, it turns out that there's a hitch; ViaClix technology will need to be integrated in cable and other set-top boxes; I won't be able to go out and get it myself. That leaves us broadcast-TV watchers out, and means that the company will have to sell TV providers on the technology. That may take a while.  (watch their six-minute demo at the end of this post)

GlideTV, from Pleasanton, Calif., is nearer term—it’s a software application that’s designed for finding entertainment programming on the Internet and browsing it by content rather than site.  The company plans to sell a $99 package that includes the software and a wireless touchpad optimized for TV browsing (photo, right, demo below).

Hillcrest Labs, from Rockville, Maryland, is also targeting folks that are willing to hook a computer up to their television. The company, however,  sees these folks asnot just looking for entertainment, but rather aas doing all sorts of web browsing. So Hillcrest is introducing a web browser, the Kylo Browser, that can be easily controlled from a distance; it makes the fonts, buttons, and cursor larger, moves most of the clutter to the bottom of the screen where it won’t get in the way of the TV picture, and pops up an onscreen keyboard when needed. Hillcrest is giving its browser away for free, in hopes of driving sales of its $99 remote, which is motion rather than touch sensitive. (photo, left, and demo below). (The remote, by the way, was hugely fun to use. Which has its good points and its bad points—my kids change channels too much as it is.)

Panelists discussing these approaches weren’t blown away, though they agree that when you move from a hundred channels to a thousand up and down channel navigation, typical on today’s TV remotes, is no longer viable.

Michael Jones, Chief Technology Advocate for Google, doesn’t see real internet TV happening as long as you have to hook up a gadget to your TV; not until television manufacturers build the technology into standard TV sets will it happen. Robert Davis from venture firm Highland Capital Partners agrees that it’s a hard sell as an add on, pointing out that besides the extra box problem, people have to be really motivated to run an Ethernet cable to their television, and most aren’t.

Instead, Chi-Hua Chien from venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers noted, convergence is more likely to consist of an iPad on the coffee table for Internet browsing during TV viewing.

Unless, the panelists said, you get that killer app. And we might just have had a glimpse of it on the Demo stage. It wasn’t something like an Internet TV navigator; instead, panelist Chien pointed to a startup out of Nyoombl Inc. from Palo Alto, Calif. with the Greypfruit, a device the size of a cell phone that hooks up to a TV for easy video conferencing—so simple, Nyoombl hopes, that when the kids turn on the TV they’ll be looking to visit with Grandma instead of watching cartoons. (We know the kids will be able to figure it out, the trick is making it simple enough for Grandma.) The company hasn’t released pricing information.

Six minute Demos from:





Hillcrest Labs


Engineering 3D

Since Avatar, 3D has become the "it" technology in the movie industry.  Exhibitors see 3-D as a way to compete with increasingly elaborate home entertainment options - from on-demand video to video games. Some of the biggest Hollywood players are getting in line.  Jeffery Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, creators of blockbusters such as Shrek and Madagascar, has said that all of the company’s films will be 3-D.  Powerful directors from Peter Jackson to George Lucas, who has talked of re-releasing the Star Wars films in 3-D, are on board. The aim is to transform the way visual entertainment is created and consumed – not just in theaters, but at home.

But there are challenges. Though Dolby’s projection technology can be utilized using a theater’s existing white screens, others require conversion to silver screens. Despite the estimated $5,500 cost of upgrading to a silver screen, this plan has won the support of exhibitors such as the Columbus, Georgia based Carmike Cinemas, the fourth largest theater chain the country.  Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements, an exhibitor based in Dedham, Massachusetts, has already equipped many of her 80 theaters.  Going 3-D is key for own strategy of beating the other theaters.  “It’s a way for us to differentiate and add a new dimension to the movie going experience,” she says.

Producers say there’s also a hidden challenge that’s just as crucial for growing the new market for 3-D movies:   getting filmmakers up to speed.  Cary Granat is producer of blockbusters such as Scream and Spy Kids, and co-founder of Walden Media, the company that put out the animated Real D film, Chicken Little, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.  “How do you train the world of filmmakers to now rethink how they’re shooting their movies?” Granat says, “It’s not simple as just shooting in 3-D.  Everything you know from camera system to scripting scenes has to be rethought.”

Granat credits Cameron, with whom he worked on short 3-D films Abyss and Into the Deep, with engineering key solutions.   While working on Avatar, Cameron created a virtual camera system that allows him to watch portions of the film-in-progress in 3-D while he’s working.  Now others can make use of such wares.  “That was an enormous as a leap,” says Granat, “if that hadn’t happened, the cost would have been extraordinary. Another challenge is balancing the transition between 3-D and standard 2-D films.   While a film may debut in 3-D, for example, it will have a longer shelf life in 2-D form for television viewing on DVD and On Demand.  Filmmakers are working overtime to devise a fix.  Rob Letterman, director of DreamWorks’ flagship 3-D animated movie, Monsters versus Aliens, says he had to prepare two versions of some film sequences to accommodate each format.  Chase scenes in 3-D, for example, require entirely different pacing and construction.   “We’re learning how to shoot movies all over again,” he says.   

NYC Regional FIRST Robotics Competition Starts Tomorrow

This weekend the NYC regional FIRST robotics competition pits 64 high schools against each other to see whose robot plays soccer better.

The pre-game started today. High school students from the NYC area, plus one team from Great Britain and one from Brazil, finally unpacked the robots they built over six weeks in January and February. After weeks of anticipation they started tinkering again and dove into practice rounds for this weekend’s competition. The Javits Center in Manhattan was abuzz with teams making last minute adjustments and fixes, trading team buttons, parading mascots around, and most importantly, testing their bots on the field of battle.

That battlefield looked more like a soccer field for the game called “Breakaway,” where robots are supposed to roll or kick balls into a goal while climbing over or under obstacles in the field [see our January commentary for more on FIRST and this year’s challenge].

Vinod Lala, science teacher and mentor for the Mary Louis Academy’s rookie robot team, said it’s already apparent that the game will be tough – about 60 percent of the practice rounds were scoreless, 0-0, he said. And while robots get extra points for hanging off of posts placed in the center of the field, most robots aren’t going for it.

With some exceptions, of course. The Iron Maidens, a veteran all-girls team from the Bronx High School of Science, neatly steered their robot to a central post, where it reached a long arm up, latched on, and lifted itself off the ground.

The FIRST competition challenges students to make engineering design decisions from the get-go, many of which became apparent on the playing field: some robots will squeeze under obstacles, while others are built to roll over them. Some teams were even planning to add additional parts to their robots at the last minute, like a "kicker" to try to score goals.

The competition starts tomorrow and goes through the weekend, with seeding rounds Saturday and Sunday mornings, then qualifying and final rounds in the afternoon. Top scoring teams will travel to the global championships at the Georgia Dome, in Atlanta, in April.

FIRST Lego and Tech challenges, for younger students, will also take place at Javits this weekend. The events are free and open to the public.


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