Professors offer glimpse of the future

Professors offer glimpse of the future

CHAMPAIGN — There are more than 70,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States, and, if a University of Illinois computer science professor has his way, those bridges will someday be able to let engineers know when they're in trouble.

The technology Gul Agha developed — sensors that, when placed along bridges, provide status updates during extreme weather and can indicate any long-term deterioration — has already been implemented in a few places, and he would like for it to become common practice.

Agha has tried to give away this technology. But when he got no takers, he developed his own start-up company, Embedor Technologies. Now, he is marketing the technology to governments and transportation companies.

Along with UI colleagues Kirill Mechitov and Bill Spencer, he is now targeting state departments of transportation and railroad companies, which have shown the most interest so far.

In a presentation Thursday, Agha compared current methods of inspecting bridges to going to a doctor who didn't have a stethoscope.

Agha was one of 18 professors who offered a glimpse of the future at the UI Office of Technology Management's "Share the Vision" conference at the I Hotel and Conference Center. The presentations ranged from medical devices to robotics to computer security. In the afternoon, 20 startup companies, mostly with university affiliations, presented on their work.

Other featured speakers:

John Rogers, the noted UI professor leaving for Northwestern, presented on millimeter-scale wireless wearables.

Martin Burke, a chemistry professor who runs REVOLUTION Medicines, which breaks down natural compounds to determine whether they have a use in medicinal chemistry.

Jennifer Lewis, the former UI professor now at Harvard, who started Voxel8, the first company to sell a 3D electronics printer.

Lesley Millar-Nicholson, director of the Office of Technology Management, said the fourth-year conference continues to expand. She said the office is working on a similar type of event for agriculture-based companies.

"We're all working in harmony to make sure every startup has the support and resources they need," Millar-Nicholson said.

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Anonymous71 wrote on October 09, 2015 at 1:10 pm

The Professor could not give away the technology for free. So he started a company to now try and sell the product that nobody wanted for free. I am no business expert, but that does not sound like a viable business model.