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Photos: The hottest tech out of the UK's Silicon Valley

Cambridge start-ups show off security tech, emotions for avatars and DNA trackers
By Nick Heath, Contributor on
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1 of 7 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Cambridge start-ups show off security tech, emotions for avatars and DNA trackers

The brightest new companies in the UK's Silicon Valley opened their doors yesterday to showcase new technologies.

Fledgling tech businesses from Cambridge were showing off everything from avatars with virtual emotions to plugs that can download video from the internet at the Diving with Dolphins technology exhibition.

Security firm Cronto demonstrated how it plans to help stop online banking customers from being tricked into sending all their money to fraudsters.

Cronto has produced software for mobile phones that will check whether a banking transaction is genuine.

Each time a person tries to complete a transaction online, the bank's website will display a visual code, seen here on the right.

The customer takes a picture of that code with their phone and Cronto's software converts it into the details of the transaction being carried out and a numerical code to authorise the transaction, as seen on the left.

If the customer is happy that the transaction displayed on the phone is the same one they thought they were carrying out they then complete the transaction by typing the authorisation code from the mobile phone into a box on the bank's website.

The system is designed to stop fraudsters from using Trojans to hijack a person's web browser and trick them into authorising a fake transaction.

The fraudsters do this by replacing the details of a genuine online banking transaction with a transaction sending money, usually indirectly, to themselves. The Trojan still displays the details of genuine transaction on the website, fooling the customer into authorising it to go ahead.

Commerzbank in Germany is trialling the system with around 100 of its customers.

Cronto is also building a separate device that could decrypt the visual code that could be provided for bank customers so that they would not need to use their mobile phones.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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2 of 7 Nick Heath/ZDNET

With virtual worlds and online gaming now popular pastimes, a Cambridge company has developed a way to give avatars virtual emotions.

Emotion AI has created software that can make a virtual person slump in sadness, as above, or smile with delight, as below.

The software simulates bone and muscle structure and then links their movements to different emotions, creating millions of facial expressions, posture, body positions. This allows avatars to react in a more lifelike fashion.

The smiling face below is modelled using 50 simulated muscles and 60 bone joints.

CEO Ian Wilson said the technology could have uses in a range of areas, such as online games, virtual worlds such as Second Life, medical and military training simulators and digital advertising.

Time currently spent by computer games' programmers and animators on designing hundreds of animation to convey emotions could be saved by letting the Emotion AI software generate reactions in real-time, he said.

The software is being used by Antics Technologies, a company that provides tools to create computer-animated films.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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3 of 7 Nick Heath/ZDNET

With NHS plans to create electronic medical records still years away from completion, private sector companies are stepping in to fill the gap.

Patients Know Best (PKB) have built a system that gives patients online access to their full medical record from home and gives them control over who can access their records.

The system is being trialled with 150 patient records at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and, if it is successful, the company has 15 other NHS hospitals interested in using the system.

Any updates to records or test results are available to the patient as soon as they are made. This is possible because PKB is able to pull information directly from NHS files inside the NHS secure N3 network, thanks to it meeting the necessary security standards.

Patients will also be able to have an online consultation with their doctor through the system and upload home readings such as blood glucose results.

Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, co-founder of PKB, said with the system patients with chronic conditions better manage their illnesses from home and improve communications between the patient and the doctor.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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4 of 7 Nick Heath/ZDNET

The RatPlug, produced by OmniPlug Technologies, will download media files, such as photos and videos to any USB-enabled device - such as an MP3 or portable video player - while it's charging.

The user registers the device with OmniPlug Technologies online and sets where they want to download media from: for instance a video podcast XML feed. From then on, the device will automatically download any new media files from that source every time it's plugged in to charge.

Video files that would not normally play on a certain media player, because the video format is incompatible, will be automatically converted to compatible format by the plug. Every time a device is plugged in it will be checked against an OmniPlug database of compatible video formats and the video will be converted by the plug's built-in software.

Photos or videos from a device, such as a smartphone or camera, can also be set to automatically upload to a social networking site, using the details provided when the plug was registered.

The plug will connect to a home's broadband connection via Ethernet, wi-fi or Homeplug, which sends internet data over the mains wiring.

Founder of OmniPlug Jeremy Penston said he hopes the plug will be for sale in the shops by December this year.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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A new online information portal is allowing people to delve into statistics to chart everything from GDP growth to the rising price of a cheese sandwich.

Timetric's Statistical Information System (SIS) pulls data from 120,000 public information sources in Europe and the US and allows the users to combine that information in graphs and charts through its website.

Different data can be easily combined to offer new insights, such as the graph above showing the price of a cheese sandwich, which combines data on the price of bread and cheese from the government's inflation measure, the Retail Price Index.

These embeddable graphs are powered by Adobe Flash and will update themselves as new information is added to databases they pull their information from.

People and companies can also register and add their own data and map it against the information from public databases.

The online service is free and is already being used by The Guardian to present information on the newspaper's website. The company is in talks with a couple of government departments

The company plans to sell the SIS platform to organisations to track internal information.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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6 of 7 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Burglars who try to force their way into homes could be tracked and convicted using a system that tags them with genetic material.

The Chain Reaction DNA system sprays burglars trying to wrench open a front door with an unique strand of custom-made DNA.

The system consists of an ordinary door chain attached to the encased canister of DNA, as seen here.

When anyone attempts to violently pull the door open the system sets off a 120 decibel screech alarm and sprays the contents of the DNA canister over the person trying to force the door.

Police are able to identify suspects for a long time afterwards as the DNA material takes about three months to break down off the skin and will appear fluorescent under a UV light.

The DNA material can be analysed by a forensics lab that can pinpoint exactly which canister the DNA comes from.

The system is produced by RDS Innovations and uses canisters and DNA made by StranDNA.

It has already been installed in 46 homes in Hampshire and Surrey and Chain Reaction DNA is provided to alarm companies, locksmiths, housing associations and trusts through sub-licensing agreements.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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7 of 7 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Novalia have developed a low-cost way of breathing electronic life into printed pictures.

Images are printed using inks that can conduct electricity, turning each picture into a circuit board and allowing working lights, speakers and sensors to be embedded into paper.

The technology can be put to a whole range of uses, such as creating posters that talk upon being touched.

An interactive poster, as seen above, where touching the flowers will turn on LED lights in the poster, (as seen below), and play a sound clip telling them which part of the poster to touch next.

Another prototype is this birthday card, in the bottom right of the photo above, which switches on LED lights in the candles when touched and will switch the lights out when the card is blown upon.

Software stored on a small controller that is stuck onto the printed material and controls the embedded electronic components.

These conductive inks can be applied using standard printing equipment, reducing the new investment that companies would need to make.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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