Monday, September 11, 2006

Innovation Awards - The Winners Are... - The Winners Are...


Bryan Cantrill and a team of engineers at Sun Microsystems Inc. have devised a way to diagnose misbehaving software quickly and while it's still doing its work. While traditional trouble-shooting programs can take several days of testing to locate a problem, the new technology, called DTrace, is able to track down problems quickly and relatively easily, even if the cause is buried deep in a complex computer system.

The Silver award went to HelioVolt Corp., of Austin, Texas, which has come up with a way to make lightweight solar-energy panels that are powered by an alternative to the more common silicon solar material and that can be applied to glass or other building materials.

Pfizer Inc. of New York and Nektar Therapeutics, of San Carlos, Calif., won the Bronze award for their development of a powdered, inhalable insulin designed to replace shots for the treatment of diabetes.


Pfizer's and Nektar's Exubera powdered insulin won in the biotech-medical category. Researchers for years have been looking for a substitute for insulin shots to control diabetes, and several leading pharmaceutical companies are in the process of developing their own inhalable alternative. But Exubera is the first to market, and the leading competitors are still in clinical trials.


The Sonos digital-music networking system was the winner in this category. While other companies offer products that wirelessly broadcast music around a home, Sonos's use of mesh networks -- basically an efficient way to route data among multiple devices -- enables it to stream music between distant rooms without lost signals. Sonos got extra points from judges for its user-friendly design, the result of its decision to bring in an experienced product designer early in the development process.


HelioVolt won in this category for its process of making ultrathin solar-power materials. Dr. Stanbery founded HelioVolt in 2001 to devise a procedure to manufacture CIGS film cheaply and efficiently.


ET Water Systems LLC, of Corte Madera, Calif., won for a landscape-irrigation system that promises to reduce water use by gauging the precise watering needs of a home or business based on the location's plants, soil types and rainfall. Unlike other electronically controlled watering systems, the technology uses Web-based controls for users to enter details about their irrigation needs -- landscape features, local watering restrictions, and soil and plant types.


Eikos Inc., of Franklin, Mass., won in this category for a transparent, electrically conductive coating that can be used, among other things, to make solar cells, flexible displays, and touch-screen monitors that are less prone to dead spots. The company ( uses carbon nanotubes -- microscopic structures that can conduct electricity -- which it purifies and spreads as a clear coating. It has received contracts from the Air Force to develop a coating for aircraft canopies that can dissipate electrostatic charges, and from the Department of Energy to research the use of the coating in solar cells.


Incisive Surgical Inc., of Plymouth, Minn., won for a new mechanical skin stapler, which uses absorbable skin staples to close wounds after surgery. Traditionally, surgeons could choose mechanically applied metal staples, which are fast but require additional visits to have the staples removed, cause unsightly scarring and have a higher risk of infections. Or they could use absorbable sutures, which leave less scarring but take much longer to sew into place.


AuthenTec Inc., of Melbourne, Fla., won for its fingerprint-reading technology, used to authenticate users of personal computers, cellphones and other devices. The TruePrint sensor uses radio-frequency waves to get more-accurate fingerprint readings by detecting the patterns under the surface of the skin.


AxonX LLC, of Sparks, Md., won for a security-camera system that uses artificial-intelligence software to detect and identify smoke and fire in large commercial buildings. While typical fire-detection systems either respond when smoke reaches a sensor or when a fire's heat triggers a sprinkler system, the axonX system analyzes video images picked up by security cameras to spot smoke or flames before fire advances. In March, Johnson Controls Inc. announced it would distribute the technology as part of its building-controls products.


Semprius Inc., a start-up based in Chapel Hill, N.C., won for a process for making large-scale, high-performance electronic circuits that can be applied to any surface.


Sun Microsystems, of Santa Clara, Calif., won in this category for its DTrace trouble-shooting software.


Seagate Technology LLC, of Scott's Valley, Calif., won for a hard-disk recording technology that dramatically increases the amount of information that can be stored on a single disk. Seagate's "perpendicular" recording method stores data bits on end, which allows information to be more tightly packed than traditional methods, which store data bits parallel to the disk surface. Seagate began shipping disk drives using the technology earlier this year, and expects that by the end of the year all of its disk-drive products will use the technology.


Zensys Inc., of Fremont, Calif., won for wireless technology for controlling home lighting, entertainment and security systems. Like Sonos, Zensys uses a mesh network to transmit signals around a home -- in this case, radio waves convey on-off commands to any electrical device connected to the system. By using a mesh network, instead of simple radio controls, the Zensys system can detect when a new device is added to or removed from the network and can route commands without interruption anywhere in a home. More than 125 home-electronics companies sell products that can work with the technology.

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