RealTime IT News

Coming Soon ... the Outernet

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- You've heard of the Internet, intranets and even extranets. How about the Outernet?

This could be the next great marketing frontier if a new kind of, ahem, banner ad develops as planned. During a technology forum organized by "Holland House" (a trio of government agencies for the Netherlands) and Silicom Ventures here at the Museum of Computer History, the Dutch start-up Opalio touted the idea of physical flags whose surfaces display streaming media.

Opalio founder Rik Wagter showed a video of what he called "reflags": Internet-connected banner poles fitted with flags made of flexible electrophoretic material that displayed changing digital graphics delivered via IP.

Electrophoretics hold the promise of a more flexible alternative to traditional LCD displays. They can function as a kind of digital paper that could be updated electronically with, for example, the latest news or pricing information. Earlier this summer at a trade show, Hitachi showed an electronic paper display based on electrophoretics that's due out commercially next spring, according to the Japanese publication Tech-On.

Wagter said the mission of Opalio, which he described as a "media lab," is to digitize the worldwide flag and banner market for what it calls the Outernet: Internet-connected outdoor advertising.

The flag's displays can be updated much as streaming media comes to the desktop via the Internet. In one scenario, Wagter said reflags will be powered by the wind energy generated by the motion of the flags.

"Our competition is outdoor advertising like billboards, but reflags are cheaper and can fit in many more places. It fills a gap in the digital signage market," said Wagter. Opalio has three patents on hardware and software related to the reflags.

Howard Hartenbaum, of the venture capital firm Draper Richards, said after the presentation. "I hope to see this in the market. It's pretty cool." The event was held at the Museum of Computer History in Silicon Valley.

Wagter said he doesn't expect the first reflags to be available commercially until 2008.

An energy-related presentation of a much different kind was by startup Epyon. The Epyon Flash Pack, due this December, is a portable battery and universal charger in one, designed to recharge a range of devices including mobile phones, PDAs, digital cameras and MP3 players.

In addition to charging a range of devices, the Flash Pack promises a recharge in a mere 30 seconds. A little bigger than a deck of cards, the Flash Pack quick charge doesn't provide the same battery life as traditional rechargers. For example, the company said it will charge a mobile phone for 23 minutes of talk time (or 30 hours of standby time) after a 30-second charge. The talk and standby times go up to 45 minutes and 60 respectively when charged for 30 minutes with the Flash Pack.

Via a standard USB connection, a 30-second recharge with the Flash Pack gives an iPod 50 minutes of play or a digital camera 17 photos. Cost is expected to be in the $70 to $80 range, and the company said it's interested in licensing its technology.

Eventually Epyon wants to integrate its "supercharge" technology into portable devices like cellular phones and PDAs, as well as heart defibrillators, and optical mice, Simon den Uijl, managing director of the firm, told internetnews.com.

Two other Dutch companies have very different strategies for helping to protect life.

C2V said it's developed the next generation of hand-held chemical detection equipment to provide early warning of terrorist attacks. "We measure a large number of molecules in a very sensitive way," said Job Elders, CEO of C2V. He said C2V's micro gas chromatograph technology is different than other chemical analyzers in its ability to measure not only a pre-determined range of chemicals but also additional compounds as they are determined to pose a threat.

Virtual Proteins BV showed a prototype of its Virtual Proteins Micro Lab. VPML uses virtual reality technology to provide a 3-D model of protein cells. The idea is to help pharmaceutical researchers identify problem areas in the cells and develop new drugs to correct them. Hardware includes a custom 3-D viewer and PC software.