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Cutting Edge Trio



& #8226;


Integrated Data Corp.


Type of Business:

Data compression and wireless transmission; catalog synchronization



Revenues:

Around $2.4 million



Innovation:

Technology that allows the military to compress and send information via satellite to soldiers’ hand-held PDAs or vehicle computers in remote locations throughout the world. The technology is currently focused on technical information for such applications as vehicle repairs and maintenance manuals. “If you stacked up the manuals for the M1 tank, it would be taller than you are,” said retired Army Gen. Jim Ross, an IDC director. The technology also allows updates and revisions to be sent without retransmitting an entire technical document. Transmissions that used to take more than 10 hours can take less than one minute using this method, saving the military millions of dollars in satellite transmission time and freeing up bandwidth for other uses. Every manual or piece of equipment can be cataloged so that if a soldier identifies a broken part, the order can be transmitted through the software to ensure the correct piece arrives. “It’s everything from the coffeemaker on a submarine to a nuclear reactor,” said Chief Executive David Gomes.



Genesis:

While working on his first venture, Gomes learned that the Marines are the largest purchaser of carbon copy paper in the country. That gave him the idea to focus the business on the military sector, where there was a need to send and update thousands of pages of technical information. IDC created an electronic catalog of technical manuals, 7 million national stock numbers and 13 million part numbers for equipment and supplies used by the Department of Defense.



Development history:

Gomes started the project in L.A. with two software engineers in 1999. The company was formed in 2001 when IDC received a $100,000 Navy contract to prove that its technology could be used for cataloging and transmitting technical data for submarines on topics such as “How to clean, repair and maintain a torpedo tube.”



Obstacles overcome:

Gomes started his first company in the mid-’90s. It was called eManuals, a dot-com originally conceived as an online source for all types of technical manuals. Later, when he shifted focus to the military, the challenge was standing out among thousands of defense and technology companies. Gaining access to Pentagon decision-makers was one of the most daunting tasks and Gomes, who does not have a military background, had to learn how to gain credibility. The “proof of concept” contract didn’t cover costs and IDC ran through cash and lost money on the deal. Leery of venture capital because he wanted to maintain control, Gomes funded the company himself and raised money from friends and family.



Spinoff uses:

The company is moving into maps and other strategic information support for the Navy and Army. Map update transmission also has an application in the auto industry, which is now installing GPS navigation systems. Data compression and transmission technology could be used in financial transactions and legal documents, with applications for other industries that involve data transmission to remote locations.


Hilary Potkewitz



& #8226;


AeroVironment Inc.



Type of Business:

Manufacturer of military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Also makes energy control systems, battery systems, lightweight batteries, solar and fuel cell power technology and vehicles. Established in 1971 in Monrovia by legendary aircraft designer Paul MacCready.



Revenues:

Roughly $75 million.



Innovation:

Inexpensive, lightweight UAV models based on a remote control model aircraft; they enable small companies of soldiers to see over hills and buildings, preventing casualties from ambushes. A single Raven UAV costs about $35,000, and a system of three planes and a controller with video monitors costs about $250,000. Larger UAVs such as Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Global Hawk and Boeing Co.’s Predator, cost millions of dollars each and need central command centers. The Pointer and later AeroVironment models, Dragoneye and Raven, can be can be carried in a backpack and hand launched, so they don’t need a runway. All three models are battery operated, weigh four to nine pounds and fly at speeds of 20 mph to 60 mph for up to 90 minutes.



Genesis:

Early military UAVs not only were larger, more expensive and needed runways but also provided surveillance information of very large areas in the battlefield to central command centers not precise, immediate battlefield information to soldiers on the ground. AeroVironment engineers thought they could easily improve on the concept using aircraft technology they had developed for other commercial uses. Moreover, most staff engineers were model aircraft enthusiasts, so basing the UAV on a model aircraft platform was a natural jump.



Development history:

Ray Morgan, a former vice president, and designer Martyn Cowley, who won a world championship remote-controlled glider competition, created the company’s first concept UAV. Development started in the late 1980s at AeroVironment’s UAV Technology Center in Simi Valley. The company sold the first fleet of two dozen Pointers to the Army and Marine Corps in 1990.



Obstacles overcome:

While the aerodynamic technology was well established, the company needed to wait for the development of miniature video cameras that could withstand battlefield conditions.



Spinoff uses:

Because of their low cost and ease of use, the UAVs non-military applications include security monitoring of oil or gas pipelines and utility lines; monitoring the U.S. Mexico border; urban surveillance for law enforcement agencies; spotting tuna schools for fisherman; monitoring agricultural fields.



On the horizon:

In June, the company successfully test flew its Global Observer, a UAV with a 50-foot wingspan that flies at 65,000 feet for up to a week, runs on fuel cells and serves as a low-cost, quickly launched communications satellite. The military is increasingly shifting its focus from battlefield weapons such as jet fighters and tanks toward intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance. It needs more new communications satellites, but those cost billions of dollars and take years to get in the sky.


Matt Myerhoff



& #8226;


Second Sight Medical Products Inc.



Type of Business:

Developer of artificial retina, not yet on market



Revenues:

Still in research and development phase; received $15 million from the National Institutes of Health in 2001 and another $30 million through a partnership with the Department of Energy. Company was co-founded by medical entrepreneur Alfred Mann.



Innovation:

Developed a medical device that can be implanted into the eye, allowing blind patients to perceive light through electronic stimulation. Roughly the size of an aspirin, the device has an array of electrodes that send a current through retinal nerves, then through cells that connect to the optic nerve and the brain. Cells that are dead or damaged due to retinal disease are bypassed. The device doesn’t allow the blind to “see” the way a natural eye would. The images appear as light points on a grid, similar to lights on a scoreboard. The first-generation device had a four-by-four pixel grid, which allowed for rudimentary shapes. The next generation has an eight-by-eight pixel grid, and the goal is to continue improving resolution. The first phase of the trial involved six patients. The second generation of the device is pending Food and Drug Administration approval, and the company is looking to implant devices in a new round of patients next year.



Genesis:

Chief Executive Bob Greenberg saw an experiment with an early type of retinal stimulation while studying at Johns Hopkins University in 1990. As an electrical engineer pursuing a medical degree, he saw it as a chance to apply electronics to medicine. Greenberg and colleagues focused on blindness caused by degenerative retinal diseases. The project does not focus on blindness caused by diabetes or sarcoma. “It’s not going to help all blind patients, but we think it has potential to help roughly 3 million patients in the Western world,” Greenberg said.



Development history:

Concept first developed by Drs. Eugene de Juan and Mark Humayun at Duke University. Greenberg met them later at Johns Hopkins and worked with them on his dissertation. In 1998, Mann recruited Greenberg from his job at the Food and Drug Administration to start a retinal prosthesis program in L.A. He continued to collaborate with de Juan and Humayan, who were working in Baltimore. In 2000, they were recruited by USC’s Doheny Eye Institute.



Obstacles overcome:

Developing new materials for the electrodes that could withstand the electrical currents and exist safely in the tissue of the eye. It takes a high amount of electrical current to get visual perception. “Even the noble materials like platinum will dissolve,” Greenberg said. The company developed proprietary materials with the Department of Energy. Another challenge has been working with the delicate, wet tissue of the retina and implanting an electronic device safely.



Spinoff uses:

Greenberg said the technology, called high-channel-count neural stimulation, can be used for nerves other than the eye, such as the spinal cord. “The general field of neuro-stimulators is one where this technology has direct application,” he said.


Hilary Potkewitz

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