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13 May, 2019 - 13:43 By Tony Quested

Swiss AI innovator chooses Science Park for its Cambridge nervecentre

Iprova at Cambridge Science Park

Swiss AI innovator Iprova, which has devised a way of levitating a lost or hidden device into the hand of the owner and adjusting friction on the casing to make it harder to steal, has chosen Cambridge Science Park for its first home in the leading technology cluster.

Business Weekly revealed in June 2018 that founder Julian Nolan wanted to return to his alma mater to establish Iprova’s UK research hub, tapping into home-grown talent and Cambridge’s burgeoning global reputation for Artificial Intelligence leadership.

Iprova, which works with clients including Nokia, Philips and Sony, uses an ‘ideation engine’ to identify social, market and technology advances from around the world, which, in turn, offer invention concepts for the company’s team of human inventors to develop. 

By using AI, Iprova says it is able to invent faster and more diversely than has previously been possible.

Nolan says he is excited to bring his company back to the city where he studied (ACDMM, business management) and believes the globally-renowned Science Park is the ideal launchpad for UK expansion.

Iprova’s technology will come as a relief for those who struggle to find their mobile phone in their bag or briefcase or lose their handset down the back of the sofa. The levitation capability pioneered by the Lausanne-headquartered company will return a lost device to the owner.

This iteration of the technology backs Nolan’s premise that everyday frustrations can be a trigger for invention.

He says: “Our approach to invention is to use an ‘ideation engine’ to identify social, market and technology advances from around the world, which offer invention concepts for our team of human inventors to develop. By using AI, we are able to invent faster and more diversely than has previously been possible.

“For example, phones have sophisticated components that are required for a particular function but also have much greater capability. Our clients, which include Sony, Nokia, Philips and Panasonic, are interested in how elements of the phone can be repurposed to offer new services or greater functionality; that is, levitation of a device can be achieved without any additional components.”

Nolan adds that humans are sophisticated communicators. Gestures, glances, sub-vocalisation and proximity to others all provide subtle clues for behaviour and can be used to make the control of devices more intuitive.

Recent patents filed by Iprova adjust the features of a smartphone according to the needs of the owner. Older people often drop phones, so a slight increase in friction could make it easier to hold and use – and increasing friction further would make it harder for a thief to steal from a back pocket. 

Another patent makes it easier for users with glasses to view the camera, and a further patent allows hands-free access to the phone by using passwords based on ‘thinking’ a melody without even needing to hum it.

Iprova’s ideation engine scours the internet and other information sources to identify social, market and technology advances from around the world.

Nolan adds: “We don’t try to compete with internal R & D teams in large companies. These teams often have very deep knowledge of their domains, but limited breadth. 

“We add value by analysing the inter-relations between diverse technologies to create disruptive, commercially valuable inventions. These could be the ‘silver bullet’ to enable a company to dominate a market or diversify to new markets.”

For example, the challenge of ensuring young people only access age appropriate information on the Internet is a current subject of discussion. Iprova has discovered a way that brainwaves generated while a user is engaged in an activity on their smartphone, tablet or other device could be used to determine privacy policies. This has potential to be used to block access to particular apps, increasing parental control.

Nolan believes that Iprova is using AI to change the economics of invention and this will have a profound impact on how companies manage their IP portfolios and think about invention.

“Companies are confident that they can create commercially-relevant inventions rapidly, when they need them and in precisely targeted areas. They can then rethink their IP portfolios,” he says.

“The expense and delay to get patents granted may no longer make sense when inventions can be generated so quickly and cost-effectively.”

Over the past few years, the small team of inventors at Iprova has created well over a thousand inventions, which have been the subject of hundreds of patent filings by some of the world’s best-known technology-based companies and cited by others including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, GE, Google, IBM, Qualcomm and Yahoo.

Many of these companies now have a research base in Cambridge or are located around London’s Kings Cross station, attracted by and within easy reach of the world-leading machine-learning and AI cluster in the city. Iprova is growing rapidly and sees potential to expand its team of invention developers.

Tim Beard, an invention developer at Iprova, will be heading up the Cambridge office. He says: “We will recruit people familiar with technology but who will be lateral thinkers, capable of seeing the potential applications for ideas that are commercially viable.”

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