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Gizmos from Cambridge

'Rocket scientists' on display

Cambridge has a long and valiant history in spawning pointy-headed rocket scientists, as well as a shorter but no-less valiant track record in trying to turn their ideas into viable products and businesses. So the chance to pop along to the St Johns Innovation Centre in Cambridge for an exhibition of some of their latest efforts was just the way to spend a morning exercising one’s curiosity about such.

And exercise is what it got, particularly in the IT-related arena where the developments on show ranged from the seriously business-like through to the ultimate way to end all domestic arguments, possibly forever.

Split personality

Taking that one first, imagine the scenario: a typical evening in a typical front room, watching a typical TV set. He wants to watch the football, she wants to watch East Enders (OK stereotypes’r’us, but you get the idea). Domestic harmony is probably low on the agenda just at that moment. But now insert the Digital Sound Projector from 1 Limited a speaker system that uses phased arrays of speakers to provide individual sound to two different listeners. So, using a split-screen display capability on the TV, it is possible for each warring faction to have not only the image they want but the soundtrack too, in full surround sound.

According to business development manager Steve Collicott, the trick is to use the phased arrays to bounce directed sound off the walls of the room so that they concentrate at the location of the listener. This is determined by the simple expedient of the listener holding a microphone to locate their position in the room. In this way, each listener can hear their respective sound track, with little spill-over. There was no word from the company as to any technology being available to help users decide who got to use the microphone first.

The company has also developed some novel technology to drive autofocus mechanisms for mobile phone cameras. It has developed both the necessary algorithm and a mechanical amplifier based on a development of a piezo-electric `bender’. Known as Helimorph Actuators, they are constructed from Lead Zirconate Titanate ceramic compounds wound into a tiny double helix that fits in the camera lens. The application of just 5mW power will cause the actuator to move with sufficient force to change the focus.

Hard-Fi

Falling into the `damn it, even I could use that’ category was the Hard-Fi system from 3GA Ltd. This targets the simple premise that there are many more music lovers who would rather fight shy of using a computer to generate some mp3s to take around with them than the geeky sort.

So the Hard-Fi solution is simple, create a CD player that incorporates an mp3 converter/compressor and sufficient storage for the equivalent of around 700 CDs. You can just play a CD or play it and convert/store it at the same time. The results, or any selection of them, can then be downloaded to a portable mp3 player via a USB port. Target price is around £150, and the word is that an `AUX IN’ capability may be provided soon for all us old’uns with our collections of real, plastic albums.

Spot the mismatch

On the business front Accipia was demonstrating a tool that could become well-beloved of telcos – a way of gaining much greater control over billings and revenue generation. Founded by two previous directors of Geneva Technology, which developed the Geneva rating and billing system supplied by Convergys, the company is planning to launch its CenterView Revenue Assurance system in the first quarter of next year.

Built around an Oracle database, the system takes data feeds from all the core revenue generating systems in the telco network and, in essence does a complex compare and contrast between them to find mismatches. According to Ras Khaktar, Revenue Assurance Practice Manager with the company, most telcos lose around 10 per cent of their revenue every year through poor management.

An example of what he means is when a user changes their service level to a less comprehensive one – say, from 500 free minutes a month to 200. The change makes it through to the billing system, but can sometimes fail to make it through to the service provision systems. CenterView can take the daily inputs from those systems and spot the mismatches. The results are then displayed as a dashboard for business managers and from this it is possible for technical staff to drill down to identify specific problems in the network.

An important target market Accipia sees coming up is the move to increasing levels of third party services provided through the mobile phone. One of these, for example, is the use of the phone as a surrogate credit card, which will involve telcos acting as financial service provider to both the banking fraternity and the retail trade. It is a big potential money earner, but without good billing and revenue control it is also a potential nightmare of frightening proportions.

Super-structure

There has been a good deal of activity recently in the search engine market, with Microsoft targeting Google’s backyard with some energy. But there is still room for smaller players to target niche sectors and one such, Linguamatics, which was showing 12E, a text mining tool designed for intra-company applications where there is a need to generate structured data out of the vast amounts of unstructured data that companies generate. The company defines it as a smart search engine that is capable of finding the contextual links that help create the structured dataset.

The primary market for 12E at the moment is in pharmaceuticals, searching through truly huge amounts of unstructured data such companies produce. This speeds such work as identifying contra-indications, where drug `A’, when taken together with Drug `B’ in circumstances `C’ can lead to adverse effect `D’. ®

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