In through the outfield blog

11 posts from April 2009

23 April 2009

Carbon capture and storage

Britain's budget has been described as the first carbon budget, and a Telegraph article has picked up on a related development.

Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, is reported as being expected to approve at least one carbon capture coal-powered power station. The idea is that the carbon dioxide created by the power station will be captured (or "sequestrated") and then stored, probably underground. The concept is called CCS. The new station would be financially supported by the government to demonstrate the technology.

Energy companies say that they cannot profitably operate CCS power stations, so the article suggests a levy on consumer's power bills would be needed.

The question in my mind is, which specific technology would they use. CCS technology has grown greatly in recent years. A simple analysis suggests that while during 2001-2004 there were 61 inventions on the subject, in 2005-2008 there were 144.

My strong impression is that there is no consensus on the best method to use. So I offer as an example of CCS a recent Raytheon patent application for efficient extraction of oil and reduction in energy use. The petroleum in a reservoir is electrically heated and is run through heat exchangers while carbon dioxide is injected into the reservoir, which is then capped. Here is its main drawing.

Carbon capture and storage patent

22 April 2009

The problem of shoelaces

Shoelaces that keep on getting undone can be a problem. Peter Greedy is a London optometrist who claims to have solved the problem after six years of work in his garden shed.

A British patent was granted in 2006 for his Fastener arrangement for footwear and clothing. Here is the main drawing.

Peter Greedy patent 

A double knot might sound simpler than a special device, but Greedy argues in the patent that children find tying knots awkward. All that is needed is a simple pulling action which tightens the lace within a short tube.

A trade mark, Greeper, has been registered in the UK by Greepers Limited. A clever play on his name and "gripper". That site talks of the mark as Greeper™ but since it has been registered they are entitled to use a ®, which is stronger protection, as there is no need to prove in any dispute that the mark is known in the area of business and that they are suffering from the competition -- it simply goes straight to a court case.

The product was launched at a footwear trade show in Germany and already has interest from retailers. There is a story about the invention in the Telegraph which quotes Greedy as saying "protect your intellectual property". There is only a British patent and a British trade mark at present: it is too late to apply for patents in other territories, but securing foreign trade marks would help stave off competitors making the same product.

20 April 2009

Check your name on the Web with namechk

Check Username AvailabilityThanks to Sarah Lane a guest on net@night with Amber and Leo for recommending namechk.

This is a ‘one stop shop’ for seeing if your personal or company identity is available at dozens of Social Networking and Social Bookmarking websites, such as Twitter and Facebook. It enables you to be consistent with your brand or identity wherever it appears on the Internet.


Pixar's patents for animating hair and fur

I was watching a programme about the hundred best children's movies when it was stated that Monsters, Inc., which dates from 2001, was the first animation which showed hair and fur realistically. It's the one where monsters are frightened by a little girl named Boo.

That movie was by Pixar. Out of curiosity I had a look and found that they have lots of patents for algorithms to manipulate computer-generated imagery (CGI) to produce useful and interesting effects in animation.

A relatively quick look did not show any patents before 2001, but from 2003 Pixar was filing patents for just that. Anyone interested in the technical details of how CGI works will find them a goldmine.

The first to be published was Hair rendering method and apparatus which has this as its main drawing:

Hair rendering patent 

Its initial page discusses the problems of creating realistic effects and then goes on to explain the invention with language such as "The computer program product is on a tangible media that includes code that directs the processor to determine a grid including a plurality of voxels and a plurality of vertices, wherein at least a subset of the voxels bound at least a subset of the hair objects, code that directs the processor to determine a hair density value associated with each of at least a first set of vertices, and code that directs the processor to filter the hair density value associated with each vertex from at least the first set of vertices with a filter to form filtered density values". Whew.

Pixar also has its later Volumetric hair rendering patent, which says "Manually animating each individual hair is typically too time-consuming to be practical. As a result, the motion of hair is often derived from a physics-based simulation. Hair simulations typically represent each hair as a set of masses and spring forces" -- such as gravity or wind. Yet that can look false, as hair does not move in a single mass. There is also the problem of appropriate lighting. The trick is to get them to move realistically in a "collective" fashion without an expensive amount of computing time.

The patent's solution was "volumetric representation [which] determines hair responses to hair to hair collisions and illumination".

The Google Advanced Patent Search database can be used to find more, such as "rendering" as a title word (where patents on creating shadows can be found, for example). Ask for Pixar as the assignee.

08 April 2009

Squeezing out the last from a tube

It is always annoying when you can't get the last residues out of a tube, such as a toothpaste tube, no matter how hard you try. I've come across a solution to this problem.

Butterfly Technology (UK) Limited has, with its Squeeze with Ease™ technology, patented a Deformable dispensing tube. The web site illustrates how it works with an attractive video which has been described as "sexy" elsewhere on the Web (I would not disagree).

By applying a force anywhere near the end of the tube, what the patent coyly calls an "internal device" (some sort of piston) moves towards the opening to deliver a dose of the contents. In this way the tube is progressively emptied. No waste and no nuisance struggling with the tube, and there is even a coloured dot showing when the tube is empty. The disabled would find using tubes a lot easier.

The patent gives William Bell and Jonathan Jones as the inventors, but the web site credits Susan Bell with starting the innovation process. She worked as a senior nurse in renal transplants at the Royal Free, Hampstead, and wanted to improve the dispensing of medicinal creams. She has demonstrated the product on This Morning Mumpreuner, an ITV show which I must admit I have not come across. 

William Bell has an engineering background and Jones in design. This shows in the video --  the product looks very sharp, and I'd like to see it used in transparent tubes where the contents can be seen through like many shampoos and the like. I don't believe it's available at the shops yet.  

07 April 2009

Business tips from the experts spent a bit of time today exploring our collection of videos on the Business & IP Centre Inspiring Entrepreneurs YouTube Channel.

We now have 71 videos to choose from with ex-Dragon Doug Richard the most popular with over 9,000 views.


I decided to have a look at those videos which languish at the other end of the viewing spectrum and came across some pearls of wisdom from the late Anita Roddick.

Her talk was part of our Commerce with a Conscience event from January 2007, and although I was fortunate enough to be present that evening, I had forgotten what an amazing (and unpredictable) speaker she was.

Here are a few quotes to indicate what I mean:

“As entrepreneurs you are incredibly creative, you vomit ideas.”

“What you are lousy at is management, I couldn’t manage my way out of a paper bag.”

“Successful social entrepreneurs are pathologically optimistic.”

Here are just a few of her ideas from the evening:

1. You need to find people who can expedite your ideas, as you won’t have the skills.

Cover2. Set clear goals. Napoleon Hill author of Think and Grow Rich. interviewed some of the richest people in the world in the 1920’s, and distilled their views. The key point was to be so clear of your objective you can visualise it. My subsequent experience as a business advisor has reinforced this view. Only those entrepreneurs who really see where they are going with their business or their idea will succeed in the long run.

3. Learn what you need to know, then network with people who have expertise and knowledge and ask them questions. It seem women entrepreneurs a much better at this than their male counterparts.

4. Copy other people’s ideas if they are great ones. Anita learnt about using tours as a way of inspiring staff and customers from Ben & Jerry’s.

5. Enthusiasm can overcome almost all barriers.

6. Don’t borrow money from close friends or family, as it can lead to control issues.

7. Find your area of excellence.

06 April 2009

Will Spotify kill iTunes? is the heading for an intriguing article in the latest issue of gadget obsessed Stuff magazine.

I have to admit that I only heard about Spotify for the first time two weeks ago on Leo Laporte’s net@night 91.

However, since then the mainstream press has started to pick up on it as a potential iTunes killer - Spotify declares war on iTunes.

It seems hard to believe that Spotify can already have six million tracks (including the very latest albums in full) and over a million members signed up to either its’ free advert supported service, or the ad-free subscription of £9.99 per month. Although the fact I am listening for free to the brand new album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as I write, proves the case.

Now it has gone one stage further by linking up with London-based online music store, 7Digital which has four million individual tracks.

This is yet another indication of just how revolutionary the Internet can be when it comes to both established and even novel business models. It took iTunes just six years to become the dominant player in music sales, currently accounting for 70 per cent of all online music sales, and selling six billion songs along the way.

However, Spotify was only launched in the UK in October last year and already has more than a million customers.

The lesson, is that if you are going to operate a web based business you can’t afford to stand still for a moment.

PitchTV - your chance to make your pitch to Richard Branson not surprisingly in these YouTube obsessed times, there has been something of a rash of video-pitching websites. A friendly version of Dragon’s Den? and See my pitch are just two that I have covered previously.

However, when Richard Branson of Virgin fame gets involved you just know there will be a lot of interest.

PitchTV gives you the “chance to pitch your business idea directly to people who could make your ambition a reality.”

Once a month we’ll pick out a selection of the best video pitches and then let everyone vote for their favourite. Each month the five most popular video pitches will make it on to the PitchTV show which will premiere on Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight entertainment – to be seen by top business professionals from around the world.

So if you think you have the media friendly features to make it through to the final round, then why not give it a go.