UC San Diego computer science professor and Photometria co-founder David Kriegman (left) with co-founder Satya Mallick (right), a recent Jacobs School Ph.D., recently won top honors for their virtual makeover web site taaz.com during CONNECT's Most Innovative New Product Awards.
San Diego, CA, December 17, 2008 --Two successful technology companies launched by UC San Diego engineering faculty garnered top honors during CONNECT’s recent Most Innovative New Product (MIP) awards. Photometria, cofounded by UC San Diego computer science professor David Kriegman, won in the software and information technology category for taaz.com, a realistic virtual makeover site where visitors can try different makeup and hairstyles from the comfort of their home.
Mushroom Networks, cofounded by Jacobs School electrical and computer engineering professor Rene Cruz, and Cahit Akin, a former researcher in the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), won in the wireless communications category. The company’s new PortaBella product is the industry's first one-sided wireless broadband bonding network appliance (BBNA) delivering fast, mobile Internet connection for downloading and uploading media-rich data.
In its 21st year, the CONNECT MIP Awards are known as San Diego's "Oscars" for local technology innovation. More than 100 companies of all sizes enter in eight categories: action and sport technologies; aerospace and security technologies; clean technology; hardware and general technology; life science-diagnostics and research tools; life science-medical products; software and IT; and wireless communications. The winners were announced December 12 before an audience of more that 800 of San Diego's top executives, entrepreneurs, service providers, and academics. The MIP Award winners were selected from more than 100 entries representing a broad range of companies.
According to CONNECT, the awards program has been an indicator of the industries and technologies that have stimulated the San Diego economy, from early-stage biotechnology companies to the first products generated by the region’s telecommunications boom.
“In our current economic situation, creative leadership and innovation are critical to San Diego maintaining its position as a global leader in the technology and life sciences industries,” said CONNECT CEO Duane Roth. “The MIP winners are great examples of the many companies that keep our region at the cutting-edge of technology.”
Many of those cutting-edge technologies have spawned from discoveries at UC San Diego. Taaz.com, for example, originated at the Jacobs School of Engineering as an algorithm for separating gloss from non-gloss in digital images, which was discovered by Kriegman, Satya Mallick ( a recent Jacobs School Ph.D.), and other colleagues Peter Belhumeur and Todd Zickler. The researchers patented this method and used it to simulate applying makeup to images.
On the taaz.com Web site, a user can, for free, upload a portrait-style photograph. A computer-vision system then automatically identifies the person’s eyes, nose, lips and cheeks. The consumer can then apply thousands of makeup products from a variety of brands to their digital portraits and experiment with new hairstyles and even colored contacts. Once users create a new look they can share it with their friends by posting a picture in taaz.com’s public gallery or by uploading it to social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. Users can even print off a list of products they tried on at taaz.com. The Web site has been named the most realistic virtual makeover site available.
“The exciting thing is with the Internet you’re not fully in control of what’s happening,” said Kriegman, who is currently Photometria’s Chief Scientist and on leave from UC San Diego. “So many women have found the Web site so compelling that they have written articles on blogs, made videos, have created discussion groups about it, and even whole blogs. Radio shows are picking up on it. Most of these things we have had no touch with. There are even some people who have created a cool video about 50 hair styles for (actress) Halle Berry using taaz.com's technology.”
Kriegman – one of the most widely cited experts on the subject of face recognition – credits some of Photometria’s success to the Jacobs School’s von Liebig Center, whose mission is to inspire entrepreneurism and catalyze commercialization of UC San Diego inventions through grants, education and business mentoring.
“The Von Liebig Center makes entrepreneurship more accessible for faculty and students and helps to move technology into the commercial world,” said Kriegman who, in 2006, also went through CONNECT’s Springboard program, a free business-development mentoring program.
In earlier days at Calit2 prior to the Mushroom Networks spinoff, from left to right: Mustafa Arisoylu, Rajesh Mishra, Cahit Akin and professor Sujit Dey, who founded a separate company, Ortiva Wireless, which was a finalist in the hardware category (with Mushroom Networks) for a CONNECT MIP award in 2007.
Meanwhile, during the MIP Awards ceremony, Mushroom Networks vice president of engineering Rajesh Mishra thanked Calit2 and its leaders for providing an environment from which a handful of researchers were able to launch a successful company. In addition to Mishra and cofounders Rene Cruz and Cahit Akin (who is now CEO), more than half of the leadership team at Mushroom Networks worked previously at Calit2. The company itself grew out of a Calit2 project funded by Ericsson Wireless and the UC Discovery Grant program. That ‘adaptive wireless systems’ project was led by the institute's division director at UC San Diego, Ramesh Rao.
"Given the many innovative new products coming out of San Diego's wireless industry, it is a remarkable achievement for Mushroom Networks to be singled out as the best of the year," said Rao, also a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Jacobs School. "This is a huge success story for Calit2 as well, because the institute gave these talented researchers a chance to find each other, to work with each other, and to transfer those relationships and skills to the private sector."
Mushroom Networks’ award-winning PortaBella network appliance “bonds” together multiple cellular wireless Internet access cards, thereby aggregating their combined bandwidth for increased performance and reliability. The PortaBella model is targeted at the small and medium-sized enterprise market, with an aggregate capacity of as many as five USB-based cellular data cards, primarily to uplink and downlink data (e.g., allowing a TV news truck to upload high-definition video from the road to the TV station’s control center – permitting them to circumvent the need for satellite transmission.) According to the company, PortaBella “is the fastest available mobile wireless Internet access available today.”