As the moving walkway whisks travelers through Brussels Airport in Belgium, they wave and gesture at brightly colored depictions of themselves on a 48-foot-wide display wall. The images wave back from the expanse of 42 monitors.
This interactive diorama is not just entertainment. Infrared sensors are measuring travelers’ body temperatures to detect illness and streaming the data to the airport’s Hiperwall system, where it’s transformed into compelling visuals.
The software driving exhibit is a result of research conducted at UC Irvine, and it’s just the kind of university-generated innovation that will speed from lab to market with the help of TechPortal, a new technology-business incubator at the California Institute for Telecommunications & Information Technology.
TechPortal offers affordable space, technical assistance, mentoring opportunities and networking prospects to fledgling UCI-based companies struggling to gain traction in the marketplace. Calit2 will showcase the incubator – the third in the University of California system – at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 20, during its semiannual “Igniting Technology” event.
Stephen Jenks, assistant professor of electrical engineering & computer science, and Sung-Jin Kim, Calit2 postdoctoral researcher, knew they had a winner on their hands when they first developed the software that controls the Highly Interactive Parallelized Display Wall, dubbed HIPerWall.
“From Day One, everyone who saw HIPerWall asked, ‘How do we get one?’” Jenks says.
Enter Jeff Greenberg, CEO of Tech Coast Works and the recently formed Hiperwall Inc. (rendered differently to avoid confusion with the original research, funded by the National Science Foundation). He helped Jenks and Kim navigate the maze of paperwork and licensing agreements needed to commercialize their invention – a process they completed in just one year.
“We incubated the company at Calit2, and that helped tremendously,” Greenberg says. “We had access to a lab big enough to house a Hiperwall and network and staff resources.”
While the video wall’s journey from research innovation to commercial product predated TechPortal, it’s an example of what the new service can do for other inventions.
Since its founding in 2008, Hiperwall Inc. has installed more than 100 displays around the world. The largest is an 80-screen version at an overseas intelligence agency. Revenue is expected to top $1 million this year.
“The financial contribution of the University of California to the state’s economy is enormous,” says UCI Chancellor Michael Drake. “Research is most valuable when it translates into products and services that enrich and improve society. The new Calit2 incubator will help more UCI inventions reach the marketplace, where they can benefit California and the nation.”
Modeled after successful incubators at UC San Francisco and UCLA, TechPortal can accommodate as many as eight businesses in its 1,460 square feet and provides wet and dry lab space, access to campus facilities, a variety of programs, one-on-one mentoring and interaction with university faculty.
The Paul Merage School of Business, the Don Beall Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the Office of Technology Alliances, OCTANe, and the Orange County Business Incubation Network will offer classes, workshops, lectures, networking opportunities and personalized advice as entrepreneurs develop business plans and market their technology to investors.
Calit2 Irvine director G.P. Li called TechPortal “a commercialization corridor.”
“It has the infrastructure to support new enterprises and is the gateway to other shared resources on campus,” he says. “To have access to so many entrepreneurial resources in one place is going to maximize the chance of success for these businesses.”
Calit2 is one of four Gray Davis Institutes for Science & Innovation created by the former governor in 2000 to spur innovation and accelerate technology transfer, an integral component of the UC mission. University inventions have formed the foundation for 461 startup companies since 1976, including 47 in fiscal 2009. The UC has received more U.S. patents than any other university in the world. Even during last year’s economic downturn, it increased its portfolio of active inventions and UC-owned patents.