Leslie Walker at DEMO 2006
Today's concluding demos were mostly about security -- various software vendors trying to protect us from the Internet's growing underworld of scoundrels and thieves.
One of the more alarming presentations came from Mi5 Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif., company selling a "spygate" computing appliance that helps corporations keep spyware from infecting computers on office networks.
Founder Doug Camplejohn told the audience he'd been monitoring all their data traffic for the past two days on the conference's WiFi Internet networks as the attendees sat surfing the Internet on their laptops while watching the show.
"We have seen over 2,000 spyware sites accessed, and several dozen of you who are infected" with spyware programs on their laptops, Camplejohn said.
Then he showed a log of IP (Internet protocol) addresses of the three dozen users whose computers were infected. They weren't identifiable, but he invited anyone worried they might have been compromised to visit his booth and get advice.
Skype Me Up, Scotty
How to get more out of your Internet phone connection was the focus of several other products shown Wednesday.
Eqo Communications introduced software people can download to their cell phones. Targeted mainly to teens, it will import their buddy lists from Skype's popular Internet calling service and make their Skype buddies available from their mobile phone, which means they can see when their pals are available to take calls.
Another teen-targeted product introduced on stage was a cordless Internet phone, called Chile, that youths can carry around the house and take calls while also using the device to access their MP3 music collections and various Web content. From a company called ZinkKat, Chile sends and receives signals from a wireless base station installed somewhere in the home.
--Wednesday February 8, 2006; 5:28 PM ET
Making the Web more social is a big theme at DEMO this year. What, exactly, does that entail?
All sorts of startups are here offering new ways to communicate and fresh tools to share what we find online.
Some, like videoconferencing service VSee, are merely better versions of earlier products. VSee's innovation is a peer-to-peer data transmission technique that sharply reduces how much bandwidth is required to transmit video. As a result, the image quality of what you see through Webcams using VSee is greatly improved over previous online videoconferencing services.
Other software tackles the Web overload problem weighing on all of us these days.
Some go at it by trying to make searching smarter, others help us collect and manage what we find.
Several companies showed Web software that lets people snag stuff from all across the Internet -- photos, text, entire Web pages -- and build content collections they can search, annotate, store and share with their pals. One that caught my eye was Plum.
It showed elaborate software that lets you build content collections of all kinds of media -- music, images, text, whatever. In the background it will match your tastes in, say, music with those of other people enjoy similar music. So it might present you with a musical playlist someone else compiled because its "match" technology deemed that playlist compatible with your tastes.
Also on display were social networking sites that struck me as little more than clones of the teen hangout MySpace.com. TagWorld, for instance, lets people publish, annotate and share their own Web pages, blogs, bookmarks, files and photos. The site went live three months ago and already has 700,000 registered users.
I wasn't terribly impressed with its demo, but focused on how TagWorld is moving into commerce. It introduced a new tool that that lets users instantly create Web stores and sell goods from their personal area of TagWorld. The site already offered a classified listing service that lets users "tag" or index items they're offering for sale.
--Wednesday February 8, 2006; 12:28 PM ET
Guitarists Get New Bridge to Virtual Studio
|The iGuitar.usb, an electric guitar that plugs into any computer via a USB cable.|
From an Emeryville, Calif. company called iGuitar, this guitar turns either a PC or a Macintosh computer into a recording studio, letting musicians compose and orchestrate while playing the guitar. Its proprietary USB interface is gives the guitar player direct access to digital audio recording programs like GarageBand, which iGuitar creator Patrick Cummings showed here on stage during the first day finale yesterday.
Piano players can already record music on their computers pretty easily simply by plugging in a midi-keyboard, but guitarists haven't had such easy ways of computerizing their strumming, Cummings said.
--Wednesday February 8, 2006; 11:39 AM ET
Internet phone services were the opening topic at DEMO today. An Internet calling service called "my people" got a lot of attention.
For $25 a month, my people offers unlimited local and long-distance calling over the Internet, but that's not its main innovation. The Birmingham, Alabama company bundles all sorts of extra services with the calling plan, including wake-up calls, reminder calls, group calling and 4-cents a minute international calling.
President Alan Creighton showed how you can set up reminder calls on a Web page, and the my people operator will call you at a predetermined time and say "This is your reminder call from my people. Don't forget you have a dentist appointment today."
Customers can use voice dialing, and also remotely access their "my people" Internet phone service from mobile or other wired phones. On stage, Creighton dialed his home phone and got routed to the U.K. simply by saying "London," then reached and talked to an operator at the Queen's Gate hotel there.
--Wednesday February 8, 2006; 11:00 AM ET
Filing Photos by Face
One of the best afternoon demos came from Riya, a company using face recognition and automated text-reading techniques to classify people's digital photo collections.
Riya chief executive Munjal Shah showed the audience how people can manually train Riya to recognize faces by uploading photos of that person to Riya's Web site and providing their name.
In the demo, Riya scanned his laptop to search for faces matching ones he'd uploaded of his son -- it even found one photo of Shah in which a framed photo of his son hung behind him on the wall.
Riya's service resides on the Web, which I gather means you have to upload your photos to a Flickr-like Web site in order for it to analyze your photos. The service is in a private testing now, but will open for public testing in two weeks, Shah said.
--Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 5:47 PM ET
Pausing for Breath at Mid-Day
So far 17 demonstrators have strutted their stuff on stage. My favorites from this morning were the Booksmart personal book publishing software and Pleo the living robot (both are featured in earlier posts).
Also intriguing were Tiny Pictures, a new photo-sharing service for cell phones (www.tinypictures.us) and Digislide, a micro-optical device from an Australian firm that turns cell phones and other handheld devices into mini-projectors .(www.digislide.com.au.)
--Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 1:16 PM ET
Get Your Bones in Motion
I laughed when I read the program guide blurb on Bones in Motion Inc. Its new BiM Active service, the guide said, "re-purposes mobile phones into performance monitors for outdoor activities." Supposedly, it uses your cell phone to record your speed, distance, elevation and route while you run, cycle, walk or -- in my case -- creep along.
Hey, I couldn't see myself whipping out my cell phone and peering at my stats while I ran or walked around my 'hood.
But the on-stage demo proved I was lacking in imagination.
Bones in Motion's new service uses the GPS chips in phones to measure your speed, distance, elevation, route -- -whatever. But the idea isn't really to display all that data on the run, though it can beep you with alerts and other feedback using your phone. It's measuring all thatstuff and storing it in a database that you can view later on the phone or on the Web.
The Web service looked cool, the kind of thing serious athletes will love. You can store all your routes, measure your time improvement, even share those routes with friends. Routes are imposed as purple lines over Google satellite maps. Nice.
--Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 12:57 PM ET
Furby, Meet Pleo
You've got to hand it to Furby inventor Caleb Chung. He knows how to work an audience.
|The Pleo was developed by Furby creator Caleb Chung. (Leslie Walker - The Washington Post}|
Called the Pleo, his new robotic toy is modeled after a one-week-old, long-neck dinosaur. Chung brought the tiny pet out on stage and "woke him up" for the first time. You see, Pleo isn't your ordinary robot. He's designed to have fluid, lifelike movements, move and act on his own, and display emotions in his autonomous actions.
Pleo is the creation of a robotics company called Ugobe Inc. Inside, Pleo has some 38 sensors to help him read and respond to his environment, along with the usual stereo speakers to communicate. Chung showed how Pleo also can display emotion, like playfulness (he bit his owner gently with his gums -- the baby had no teeth yet.)
Pleo is the first of what Ugobe calls its "designer life forms" robots. Pleo will sell for around $200 when it reaches stores in the third quarter.
--Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 12:40 PM ET
From Blogs to Books, Using a 'Blog Slurper'
Blurb Inc., a San Francisco startup, showed a nifty software program designed to let people design, publish and sell bookstore-quality books. Blurb's new Booksmart software provides publishing templates to help folks design all kinds of books -- cookbooks, photo essays, novels, even printed version of Web sites such as blogs. The Booksmart publishing service, still in beta testing, will be released in March.
The on-stage demo showed Booksmart automatically importing hundreds of pages from a travel blog in a few minutes, using software it calls a "blog slurper." Then founder Eileen Gittins showed you could click on any photo and substitute another one. The end result, which she had pre-printed, was a 175-page hardbound, full-color book.
Blurb strikes me as a company to watch. I've made many of photo books using the layout software and printing service at MyPublisher.com and often wished the photo-centric service were more friendly to text. Blurb obviously is. It not only publishes blogs in print, you can print anything using its dozens of templates. Prices seem reasonable -- $79.95 for up to 400 pages, or $29.95 for up to 40 pages. Now all I have to do is order a book and check out the binding and printing quality.
--Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 11:34 AM ET
Holy Cow, Does MooBella Grill Steak, Too?
The show opened today with a wireless ice-cream machine called MooBella -- a virtual ice cream shop squished inside a vending machine.
|The MooBella vending machine makes ice cream from scratch. Customers order ingredients from an electronic menu on an LCD screen. (Leslie Walker -- The Washington Post)|
MooBella spits out 4.5 ounces of fresh ice cream into a cup in 45 seconds, after customers choose from 96 flavor combos. The machine's special technology is designed to mix and "flash freeze" ingredients on the spot. It also runs a Linux operating system to analyze its inventory and sales data and beam it wirelessly back to company headquarters.
While vendors were setting up under the pavilion tent yesterday, I slipped inside and made a beeline to MooBella . I can tell you, after wolfing down a generous cup in the name of research, this machine makes a mean chocolate chip.
MooBella is still in testing with food service operators. It's not designed to be a standalone vending machine like soda and snack machines, but the business models are similar. The company plans to make money selling ingredients to food establishments that install MooBellas. Customers will make their own ice cream and pay a cashier.
--Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 11:25 AM ET
Leslie Walker at DEMO'06
A baby dinosaur robot and virtual ice-cream shop are among the quirky contraptions holding their coming-out parties in Phoenix this week at the 16th annual DEMO conference.
The two-day show, running Tuesday and Wednesday, spotlights roughly 68 futuristic products. Their creators get no more than six minutes apiece on a brightly lit ballroom stage to explain why anyone should care about their inventions. Most are kept under tight wraps until they are presented here to an audience of several hundred venture capitalists, reporters and entrepreneurs.
I'm here and will be blogging about the more interesting items I see. Past hits launched at this show included the Palm Pilot and TiVo digital TV recorder. Plenty of duds also have rolled off the DEMO stage, too, never to be seen or heard from again.
Social software and media-management tools appear to be big themes this year. The line-up includes a bevy of Web services designed to help people find, organize and share content online.
Getting more use out of mobile phones is on the agenda, too, along with tools to help consumers and companies secure data from identity thieves and electronic scam artists.
--Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 2:02 AM ET