Hot Ideas Make Creative Minds Sizzle At Tampa Bay's coolTECH 2010

Tampa Bay may not have the reputation for cool technology that Silicon Valley enjoys, but that's beginning to change.

More than 500 people strolled through a packed house of exhibits Friday as the Tampa Bay Technology Forum hosted its third annual coolTECH gathering at the Museum of Science and Industry to see the latest and greatest creations and walk away inspired to do so much more.

"A lot of people don't think of Tampa as being a hotbed of technology," admits Lori Taylor, the VP of marketing and operations for TBTF.  "That's really one of TBTF's big missions is to put Tampa Bay on the map as a technology hub and we actually have a deadline for that of 2015."

Walking among dozens of displays at coolTECH, visitors could see everything from Vision Play video gaming to the ClicRweight to foldable electric bikes, all developed locally. Green technology and energy conservation technologies had an especially strong presence this year.  

Advanced Energy Management Solutions boasted huge energy savings from ultra-efficient products that you can attach to your air conditioning unit. Personal Electronic Transportation of Sarasota has up-engineered an electric vehicle, the GoPet, that looks a lot like a Segway without the balancing concerns, and it's much more economical.  

"You're talking about a $1,400 item verses the Segway which is $5,000 and up starting out," says PETS co-founder Steven Swain. "It can go anywhere: industrial environments, large warehouses, distribution centers, college campuses; and I've got them with security companies where they have to walk long distances."

On the entertainment front, 31-year-old Augi Lye has developed what he calls Vision Play for his company, Trendy Entertainment. It's a fascinating new technology that makes use of any off the shelf webcam and your computer. Imagine a Wii without a remote.  

"See, I move left and right and the character moves left and right," Lye demonstrates with his eyes fixated on his computer screen. There, an animated tennis playing character in the foreground responds to his movements going from one side of the tennis court to the other. "And I swing my arms, it really works!" Lye smiles, as his character whacked the tennis ball over the net.

Lye, a graduate of the University of Florida, is the CEO of Trendy Entertainment and lead researcher for this new technology, which has yet to hit the market.  

"Originally, my focus was computer vision processing and a good friend of mine was a video game developer," Lye explains, "so we sort of joined forces and said, 'Hey, let's start a company to develop video games and combine it with my vision processing skills.' ''

Beyond gaming, Lye says he's received a lot of interest from museums considering the technology for interactive displays. He adds that there could also be biotech and military applications for the Vision Play technology.

Speaking Of Biotech

In the next booth sits Bioplex Technologies with its newly introduced SE-300. This technology is complicated, but what it can do is remarkable. The little black box is able to test for food quality, environmental quality and human disease much more quickly than current testing practices.  For instance, the restaurant industry could quickly determine whether Florida's favorite fish for sale is really grouper or an imposter. The SE-300 could also test for bacteria at beaches and for some diseases within an hour compared to waiting days for a culture to grow in a petri dish.

"We've started getting a lot of interest," says Carolyn Fries, Bioplex Technologies' COO. "We started selling the unit at the beginning of the year."

Around the corner with a fake deer on prominent display is a unit called the ClicRweight. It's a brand new way to weigh animals by simply taking a picture.

"It's a special 3D camera with the software we developed to analyze that picture and then convert it into weight," according to ClicRweight developer Joey Spicola of Tampa.   

Spicola had hoped to bring along a real cow for demonstration purposes, but it became logistically impossible, hence the fake deer.

Spicola says he came up with the idea while rounding up cattle at his family ranch in Texas.  After pushing and prodding the cattle onto a huge scale, one by one, he thought, "there's got to be a better way.''  With the new handheld ClicRweight device, all a rancher has to do is point and shoot, which also makes the whole weighing process much less stressful for the animals.  

The ClicRweight is expected to hit the market within the first quarter of 2011. It may have additional uses, as well. For instance, at zoos housing large exotic animals like giraffes and elephants. Veterinarians must determine an animal's weight before administering medication, so the ClicRweight could make that process much easier, safer and more efficient.

How Cool Is This?

Just across the aisle stands a smiling Mark Kemper of Engineering and Manufacturing Services, or EMS. He has just been awarded first place by the coolTECH judges. (See a list of winners on the coolTECH website.)

"Basically, what we do is product development and design," says Kemper.

Kemper moved his business to the USF Technology Park from Detroit, MI in 2003. His company can take an idea, create a 3D product design on a computer and then develop a prototype ready to manufacture. Kemper has several examples on display. One is a crock-like shoe that has been redesigned in the shape of a car for kids.

"Florida's a lot different, more mixed," Kemper explains. "There's a lot of medical, consumer, military, aerospace, marine, so we're doing a lot wider breadth of different applications. It's worked out really well for us."

In just three years, TBTF's coolTECH has developed a reputation for highlighting the coolest technology from the Tampa Bay region and attracting prominent speakers.

"We didn't know what to expect the first year, but each year we get more and more stuff," says TBTF's Taylor, "and it's stuff we've never heard of before, so I think that's a really neat part about it."

This year's keynote presentation was delivered by Frank Farro of New Technology R&D for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Farro's presentation looked at some of the key innovations the New Technology group has developed for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. The goal for successful innovators, he says, is moving on after failures while continuing to experiment with new things. "Fail fast, cheap and move on to the next thing," he advises.

Innovation, Farro says, requires finding the best, most efficient way to sort the great ideas from those that are simply good ideas, and redefining the path to success to include room for failures along the way.

Heidi Kempf, a freelance writer, lives in South Tampa with her teenage son and daughter, and two Tibetan Terriers. She is addicted to early morning workouts, and prefers snow skiing to waterskiing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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