Inventors, investors, entrepreneurs meet to tackle big problems at annual expo

As he addressed the audience at the Missouri Tech Expo, Kannappan Palaniappan recalled how shortcomings with facial-recognition technology came to light in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

“We thought face identification technology was well and done,” said Palaniappan, a computer science professor at the University of Missouri.

But the bombings revealed flaws in the technology. “There is always room for innovation,” Palaniappan said.

Palaniappan was one of more than a dozen presenters at Thursday’s expo who pitched innovations developed within the university. The annual event was created to introduce MU inventors to investors and entrepreneurs who can help commercialize those innovations.

“A lot of times people hear about cool research that happens at the university but don’t really know exactly how is that going to benefit society, benefit me as a person,” said Christopher Fender, director of MU’s Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations and organizer of the expo. “This is where the rubber meets the road.”

Multiple inventors pitched technologies that aim to address issues arising from emergencies like natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Palaniappan’s software seeks to perfect identification using video. Although the software is close to being effective in real-time, Palaniappan said, it still has some delays. However, he said, it’s an improvement over what’s currently on the market.

Prasad Calyam, a computer science professor at MU, pitched his software, which also deals with mass casualty incidents. He created Panacea’s Cloud, a network designed to ease communications for communities hit by natural disasters or other emergencies. The software allows nurses and doctors to give real-time updates on the status of patients and include information as detailed as the heart rate and blood pressure of the patient, Calyam said.

Other technologies pitched at the expo included robust 3-D aerial imagery, presented by MU computer science professor Hadi Ali Akbarpour; and educational software to help pathology students get more precise diagnostics, led by Mikhail Kovalenko, a systems analyst at MU.

This was the seventh year the university’s Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations has funded the event, which started as the brainchild of a graduate student working for the office.

Fender recounts the time Bandhana Katoch pitched the idea of hosting the Tech Expo — an idea Fender himself was on the fence about back in 2009.

But the event continues to grow each year, Fender said. And the commercialization of university technology can mean revenue for the the inventors, their home departments, the Columbia campus and the broader University of Missouri System.

“The portion that comes to the campus is the portion that funds our efforts,” Fender said, “and we use that to then reinvest in events like this.”

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