The wheel. The print press. The gun. The railway. Electricity. Photography. The aeroplane. The microchip. The internet. (The iPod?) Could such epochs in human invention be rendered insignificant by these seven new Aussie innovations? Perhaps not, but this hand-picked selection of finalists from INNOVIC’s 2007 Next Big Thing Awards are sure to resonate in the marketplace. Liz Heynes and Catherine Kerstjens peer into their crystal ball for answers.
For Australian inventors, there are several key indicators of success. One is seeing your innovation dominate the marketplace, it goes without saying. Another is being showcased to the nation as a finalist in INNOVIC’s Next Big Thing Award.
Each year, INNOVIC scours the nation for the most exciting new Australian products in a bid to unearth what could be our next world-changing idea. Over $30,000 in cash and prizes is up for grabs in this, the national championships of innovation.
Twenty-one finalists were selected from a host of extremely high-calibre entrants across the categories of Medical, Industrial, ICT, Health & Safety and Environmental. For six weeks from 1 May to 7 June, the top 21 innovations were on display for all to see at INNOVIC headquarters, [email protected], amid a series of events and seminars promoting Australian innovation. The judging panel convened, the decision was made.
And now, without further ado, the winner is…
By Catherine Kerstjens
Five hundred thousand Australians suffer from heart failure. But not everyone is healthy enough to have a surgeon tinker with their ticker. That’s where gene therapy holds promise and that’s why V-Focus Cardiac Therapeutics Delivery System was recognised as the winner of this year’s Next Big Thing Awards. "Over recent years, research studies using various models of heart disease in small animals have shown that directly restoring the function of certain genes, by introducing them to the heart in a virus (gene therapy), holds great promise," says David Kaye, Head of the Experimental Cardiology and Heart Failure Division at the Baker Heart Research Institute.
"Our aim was to develop a system whereby promising genes could be delivered to the heart safely and effectively in patients. Our system offers sufferers of heart failure a non-surgical alternative to heart transplant."
In keeping them out of surgery, V-Focus spares patients from anaesthesia and the trauma of a long hospital visit.
"The V-Focus delivery system makes use of the heart’s own network of arteries and veins to deliver the genes," says Kaye.
"The challenge was to develop specific types of catheters (tubes) that could be placed in the heart to allow the genes to be delivered and recovered, while providing adequate blood and oxygen so that the heart can continue pumping without any added assistance."
All too familiar with the plight of his patients, Kaye is hoping to move the V-Focus system into clinical trials in the next 12-18 months. From there, he foresees huge international market potential for the device.
The science might be beyond the average person in the street, but it has the potential to help each and every one of us one day. It’s enough to warrant a collective sigh of relief.
Congratulations to David Kaye and his team at the Baker Heart Research Institute.
SMARTER THAN YOUR AVERAGE MOUSE
By Liz Heynes
What’s the size of a shoe-polish tin, plugs into your computer and can take you into the third dimension? Laurence Crew, founder and managing director of Sydney-based Cylo Technology, has the answer: the Cylo 3style mouse.
According to Crew, the 3style mouse is like a cross between a wireless mouse and a jog wheel. A normal wireless mouse allows movement up and down on the X and Y axes. 3style gives users the power to move into 3D – the Z dimension – because the whole mouse can be rotated on its ball-bearing pad.
Unlike a normal mouse, which must be held in a certain direction so that ‘up is up’, the 3style knows where ‘up’ is no matter which way it’s rotated.
The result is onscreen freedom, a boon to the 3D design, imaging, video, audio, gaming and simulation markets – all for around the same cost as a normal high end wireless mouse.
Crew devised the concept while researching virtual online environments and being frustrated by having to control these 3D worlds with a 2D input device.
And for anyone who has suffered from muscle fatigue due to mouse overuse, the 3style may be a godsend. Crew states that early evaluation by physiotherapists and corporate injury-management professionals indicates that the mouse is likely to have real ergonomic benefits, especially reducing hand strain injuries commonly caused by intensive mouse use.
Although the 3style is still at prototype stage, it has gathered recognition, including awards from the NSW Enterprise Workshop, UTS ‘Start up 06’ and the Secrets of Australian ICT Innovation Awards. In addition, Cylo’s YouTube marketing has attracted around 100,000 viewings.
Australians, renowned as early adopters of technology, are already taking the 3style to the next dimension. From a global market perspective, this could very well be the little mouse that roars.
SEND ME THE MONEY
By Liz Heynes
The ability to make phone calls is one of the more peripheral features of the modern mobile phone. It’s a camera, video camera, diary, calculator – and now, thanks to a new free service from mHITs, mobile phones are also becoming cheque books. Canberra-based mHITs (mobile Handset Initiated Transactions) is the natural next step in a world where we pay our bills online and send millions of text messages daily.
As managing director Harold Dimpel explains, mHITs is a kind of electronic wallet. It allows you to send and receive money by text message, regardless of which mobile provider you are with. Paying bills, buying ringtones and MP3s, shopping online, paying for parking and taxis, sending money to friends and donating to charity – mHITs can be applied to them all.
The single-step service works by users sending a text to the mHITs server. Payments can be made from an mHITs account to other users but can also be made to unregistered users. More money can be added from any bank account, or money can be moved from an mHITs account into a bank account. Payments made between users are free, but payments to merchants cost the merchant as little as 25 cents per transaction.
As Dimpel explains, mHITs’ place in the finalists of NBTA indicates how much mobile technology has become a part of our lives. "We’re now ready to trust our phones with our money," he says.
"mHITs is what’s known as ‘disruptive technology’, as it challenges existing methods for making payments. Disruptive technologies, if successful, characteristically have the potential for high growth and rapid market take-up. Examples are services like Skype and ICQ," Dimpel states.
mHITs, a winner at the Australian Mobile Marketing & Advertising Awards 2006, is still at early stage commercialisation and the team is currently raising capital for full commercialisation. When mHITs is on the market, expect to view your phone – and your money – in a whole new way.
MAKING HARD LABOUR EASIER
By Liz Heynes
A few years ago, Queenslander Peter Hitchin was watching construction workers on a building site and decided that the way steelfixers were tying off steel in reinforced concrete was insanity – bent in half, hips and wrists twisting and straining. An automotive engineer by trade and a passionate historic car restorer, Hitchin started tinkering with pieces of scrap steel lying around his Noosaville workshop and came with up the prototype of the ClinchA, a pneumatic tool that allows steelfixers to stay upright to tie reinforcing bar.
Placing and tying reinforcing bar is the most physically demanding task on any construction site that uses reinforced concrete, and current methods haven’t changed for more than 100 years.
The ClinchA is operated standing up, which greatly reduces injury risk for workers, and it doesn’t need batteries or skilled labour to operate. Unlike its competitors, the ClinchA ties the reinforcing bar in 0.5 of a second without using wire, so the slab area doesn’t have to be cleaned of cut wire before concrete is poured.
Hitchin and his mate, Alan Robertson, who has experience in the construction industry, are now taking the ClinchA to the world. The working prototype has been thoroughly tested and patent applications are pending in the US, Europe and Asia. Next, they need financing for tooling to manufacture the ClinchA in glass reinforced plastic.
The ClinchA is already creating interest: it won a gold medal at the 35th International Exhibition Inventions, New Techniques and Products Expo in Geneva in April 2007.
Hitchin likens the ClinchA to the nailing gun. "Forty years ago, the nailing gun was regarded as a toy, but now it’s a fixture on every construction site. The steelfixers who I’ve shown the prototype to have asked where they can buy it."
Robertson adds: "Peter is forever tinkering with some new idea, or just a better way to do things."
It’s clear that the spirit of invention is alive and well in Noosaville.
By Catherine Kerstjens
Your loss, our gain? Not in the case of West Australian company Sensear. It has developed a technology that protects against hearing loss while allowing speech communication to be heard in high-noise environments.
"The uniqueness of Sensear’s innovation revolves around its ability to distinguish speech from noise in high-noise environments (above 85 decibels)," says Greg Beale, Executive Director of Sensear. "No other product or technology ‘understands’ speech."
Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is the world’s most common occupational health and safety issue. With its effects both permanent and irreversible, prevention remains the only cure. In developing a technology that combined speech enhancement and hearing protection, Sensear realised that they were meeting a significant market need, one which would also stand to benefit the hearing of people worldwide.
"The Sensear solution combines a series of tiny microphones connected to a small processor running the Sensear software that is fitted within our hearing protection products," says Beale.
"The processor executes a series of algorithms that distinguish speech from background noise and separates the two. The resulting high quality, natural speech is then played into the ear in real time. With bluetooth technology, the user can choose to have there voice directed to there mobile phone. This enables them to take/make mobile phone calls without removing their hearing protection."
In achieving this new hearing balance, Sensear’s technology overcomes the problem of worker’s removing their protective hearing gear or temporarily lifting a headset’s muff from an ear to receive direction and engage in communications.
The technology is very adaptable, working in both ‘on the ear’ (earmuff) and ‘in the ear'(earplug) formats. While initially it will be release in ear muff, helmut-attach muff and earplug models, it can also be incorporated into a wide range of hearing protection devices and other safety equipment, including caps, to suit individual and workplace needs.
In conducting field trials in the safety market, Sensear has discovered that NIHL-affected users of the technology have also found benefits, relaying that the technology’s ability to enhance the speech signal assisted their experience in both work and social environments.
With the World Health Organisation estimating that over 627 million people work in the top six noise-exposed industries, Sensear plans to gain market share both domestically and internationally in the near future.
By Catherine Kerstjens
After attending a meeting of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness in 2001, engineer Greg Koennecke walked away with a challenge.
"Professor Hugh Taylor (of the Centre for Eye Research Australia) cited the need for a low cost, easily operated, portable retinal camera as one of six items of ‘appropriate technology’ that were priorities for reducing preventable blindness in the developing world," says Koennecke.
Inspired by that challenge, Koennecke founded Vision Instruments and is completing development of the camera with a small team in Tasmania. Their work has produced a significant breakthrough.
"Our Portable Retinal Camera captures digital images of the eye retina, in particular for screening of eye disease in remote areas and the developing world," says Koennecke.
"Other non-mydriatic (no pharmacological pupil dilation required) retinal cameras are currently available, but they are expensive, not easily portable and require significant training to use effectively. These instruments have been developed for western world ophthalmology applications and they are not optimised for retinopathy screening programs in remote areas and the developing world."
With support from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and, more recently, AusIndustry, Vision Instruments hopes to have the camera ready for production before the end of 2007.
Beyond the key traits of being low cost and portable, Vision Instrument’s Portable Retinal Camera has ticks in a number of other key boxes. It has an intuitive alignment system (providing a concurrent view of the outside of the eye as well as the retina) and an automatic focus system to facilitate ease of use.
"When development is completed, our retinal camera will be robust, sealed against adverse environments and portable for application in remote areas and the developing world," says Koennecke. "It is half the weight and folds for transport to half the volume of equivalent retinal cameras."
The challenge that Koennecke took up six years ago has clearly become a labour of love. His motivation drives every part of Vision Instrument’s daily work.
"I wanted to develop a company culture and appropriate technology that is optimised to do the most good for the most needy people."
With both an eye for detail and a big picture vision, Koennecke is one to watch.