A culture of innovation
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson September 15, 2017
The iPhone’s touch technology was born in a UD lab. What will our engineers come up with next?
Many people are buzzing about the Sept. 12 Apple announcement about the newest iPhone, the 10th anniversary edition of the device that changed the world. But did you know that the University of Delaware played a role in the development of the iPhone? Alumnus Wayne Westerman, who earned a doctoral degree from the electrical and computer engineering department in 1999, and John Elias, professor of electrical engineering, developed touch tracking/sensing and typing/gesture recognition technology as part of their startup company, FingerWorks. That invention later became a ubiquitous part of touchscreen displays and earned them this mention in the book, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant, published earlier this year:
“FingerWorks was founded by a brilliant PhD student, Wayne Westerman, and the professor advising him on his dissertation. Despite generally agreeing that the core technology was impressive, Apple’s marketing department couldn’t figure out how they would use multitouch, or sell it. ‘We said, well, it’s time to look at it again,’ Huppi [an Apple engineer] says. ‘And it was like, Wow, they really have figured out how to do this multitouch stuff with capacitive sensing.’ It’s impossible to understand the modern language of computing, or the iPhone, without understanding what that means.”
Entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of UD’s College of Engineering.
"FingerWorks is emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit and activities within ECE and across the College of Engineering," said Kenneth Barner, Charles Black Evans Professor and chair of the electrical and computer engineering department. Barner added, "Student and faculty entrepreneurial activities continue to accelerate, supported through initiatives such as the joint ECE-Horn Program Entrepreneur in Residence, Dr. Sean Wang."
FingerWorks, a tech startup powered by UD engineers, has secured its place in history. Many UD engineers have created startups, any of which could easily be the next big thing. Here are just a few examples of UD-fueled companies on the rise.
Stephan Bohacek, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, co-founded Cloudamize, a cloud analytics company. Recently, Cloudamize was acquired by the private equity firm Blackstone and merged with Cloudreach. Within this new company, Bohacek continues to drive the technology and vision of bringing actionable analytics to cloud computing. With the new investment, Bohacek plans to significantly expand the set of developers in the UD and Philadelphia region.
As an entrepreneur in product development, he offers students a unique perspective.
“Many aspects of the way I teach networking have been influenced by what I’ve learned in the startup. It’s dramatic,” he said. “I would say that maybe 80 percent of my course material is in some way influenced by my work at a startup. What I present, how I present it. I look at each topic and think: Do students need to know this? How is it going to impact them directly to get good jobs, and how is this knowledge going to help them lead exciting careers? I'm very lucky to bring startup/industry perspective to UD and to be able influence students education and careers."
Zachary Larimore, doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, is chief technology officer at Delux.
Paul Parsons, doctoral student in materials science and engineering, is director of materials research at Delux.
Mark Mirotznik, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is vice president of technology development at Delux.
It seems like everybody’s 3-D printing something these days, but not many are making 3-D printed radars. Delux, a company that specializes in electromagnetic additive manufacturing, is meeting that need.
The one-year-old company, which is housed on UD’s STAR campus, focuses on materials development and process development for printing functional structures. Delux has already secured more than a million dollars in federal funds, plus a few private contracts. There’s a big market for these materials, especially in defense.
“What we really see as our two points of expertise is that we’re very good at developing the necessary materials to make what we want and we’re very good at applying those materials in new and interesting ways,” said Larimore. Eventually he hopes they’ll produce a suite of conductive inks, resistive inks, water-based printable materials and magnetic materials that people can build models around. “I think the next thing is a catalogue of materials and solutions to printing electromagnetics,” he said.
Keith Doggett, ’17, electrical and computer engineering alumnus, is co-founder of Geoswap.
Jason Bamford, ’17, biomedical engineering alumnus, is co-founder of Geoswap.
Jordan Gonzalez, ’17, finance alumnus, is co-founder of Geoswap.
Geoswap is a social app that allows people to share photos and event information with others nearby. The trio met last year at the Summer Founders program through Horn Entrepreneurship and started developing their app from scratch.
“At first it was just a cool technology,” said Doggett. “We didn’t really know how to apply it, but then we talked to people and we kept hearing the same thing about how they would want to use it. That’s when we knew that it would be something big that could work.”
Before they even graduated, the Geoswap team had secured a two-year, $19,000 deal with Delaware tourism and parks offices. They also placed sixth at e-Fest, one of the largest undergraduate-only entrepreneurship competitions in the country.
The company is working with businesses in UD’s backyard for what they’ve dubbed Newark month, which started on Aug. 26. Through Geoswap, more than 15 local businesses are offering exclusive discounts—like buy one get one small boneless wings at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Amira Idris, ’15, ‘16G, biomedical engineering/entrepreneurship and design, is founder and CEO of TheraV.
TheraV’s signature product, the Elix, is a drug-free, patent pending vibrating strap that can aid pain management when worn over a limb. The strap’s vibrations stimulate and activate nerves in a way that disrupts pain signals sent to the brain.
Idris got inspired in 2014 during the biomedical engineering department’s Clinical Immersion Experience, in which she spent time at Independence Prosthetics-Orthotics. “By immersing myself in the prosthetic clinic through this course, I learned more about the space and the needs that weren’t being addressed in that space,” she said. For one, many patients had lingering pain—and there weren’t many solutions to help them. “I began trying to figure out what I could create to solve that,” she said.
Idris worked with the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship to validate the market and transform her idea into a bona fide startup company.
Now Idris is preparing for a soft launch of the Elix, and she is aiming for a wider release next year. In the meantime, she is receiving world-class guidance as a fellow of the Halcyon Incubator, a highly selective Washington, D.C.-based incubator for socially conscious entrepreneurs. “I’m excited to really try to scale the company while in this program,” Idris said.