MENLO PARK, Calif.--When people think about leaders in innovation in Silicon Valley, the names that might come up the most often are PARC, Hewlett-Packard, and Stanford University. But there's another name that, based on a track record of more than 50 years, might well deserve to top that list: SRI International.
Founded in 1946 as the Stanford Research Institute, SRI is now a stand-alone nonprofit that specializes in doing research and development and then spinning that work off into start-up companies.
Today, SRI has more than 2,200 employees and more than 1,000 projects. More than 70 percent of its work is done on behalf of government customers, and it specializes in five discrete areas: bio--with an emphasis on drug development; information technology; physical science; education; and engineering systems.
One of the most exciting projects currently under way at SRI centers on what is known as electroadhesion, a technology that is meant to allow small objects--such as a simple robot--to adhere to just about any kind of surface, regardless of whether it's horizontal or vertical.
Seen here is one such robot, a working prototype that can climb a wall without any type of glue, grasping, or any other assistance. Instead, it relies on charged electrodes that create an attraction with the surface.
SRI is developing the technology with an eye toward consumer products, but there are many other types of applications that are being considered as well.
While electroadhesion is great for making it possible for a small robot to climb up a flat wall, it is also good for gripping just about any type of object. Seen here, the gripper is using electroadhesion to hold on to a banana.
One of SRI's major focuses is on the development of pharmaceutical drugs. And within that area, there is a heavy emphasis on figuring out ways to convert existing intravenous drugs to ones that can be taken orally.
This machine is used in the testing of such drug conversions. Researchers at SRI must determine how well a drug makes the journey from a patient's mouth to his or her blood stream, since that trip goes through both the stomach and the intestines.
This machine tests the efficacy of what are called "enhancers," or chemical compounds that help get the drug through the stomach or the intestine.
Another SRI division is working on creating medical tools geared toward the pediatrics market. According to principal investigator Pablo Garcia, there are many rare pediatric conditions that have never been serviced by the medical devices industry, largely because the market for them is too small.
But SRI feels that there are real markets to be created in the development of new medical tools designed specially to address the needs of young children suffering from some of these diseases.
This device is an example of one Garcia's group is working on--it is designed to join a tube to a baby's esophagus when the child has a condition in which it is born with the esophagus not attached to its stomach.
The thought is that by developing such tools for the pediatric market, it may be possible to both create that new market, and find a way to extend the device design to the adult market as well.
SRI is one research participant in a project to use smartphones for automatic translation of key phrases from English to Pashto (and other languages important in, say, regions of Afghanistan) and vice versa.
Currently set up to run on an Android phone, the system has been programmed to recognize a wide variety of spoken phrases that might be used in certain kinds of situations and translate them automatically. Seen here is an English-to-Pashto translation, which is also delivered as live audio.
On October 29, 1969, SRI became one of the first two nodes on the Arpanet, the original digital global network based on packet switching and demand access. At 10:30 in the morning that day, the first-ever Arpanet connection was made, between SRI and the other node, at the University of California, Los Angeles.
With its crucial role in computer networking firmly established, SRI later became the birthplace of internetworking, later known as the Internet. In 1977, SRI sent the "first TCP-based transmission across dissimilar networks," bridging the wired Arpanet and a mobile packet radio network that had been installed inside this van.
That day, Douglas Engelbart, the director of the Augmentation Research Center at (as it was then known) Stanford Research Institute, spellbound 1,000 people with his 100-minute presentation. On the one hand, he presented what he and his partner, SRI chief engineer Bill English, had just completed: the world's first publicly see mouse. And on the other, they showed off the first public viewing of hyperlinks and navigable windows.
This is a replica of that first mouse, as seen in a display case at SRI showcasing the institution's most famous innovations.
You might not think of a research and development powerhouse as a likely winner of an Academy Award, but SRI indeed has an Oscar.
This is the Oscar that the institution won, in 1959, for its work developing the Technicolor electronic printing timer, "which allowed the film industry to bring accurate color movie prints to theaters faster."
SRI has also won 10 Emmy awards--or at least its Sarnoff subsidiary did--for a series of innovations that include the first color television display and commercial broadcast camera, to pioneering in 1997 the HDTV standard. And Sarnoff also gets credit for inventing the satellite TV digital transmission platform.
One of SRI's most successful spinoff ventures is called Intuitive Surgical. That company, which was spun off in 1995, developed the first U.S. Federal Drug Administration-approved robotic surgical system. The system is now used all over the U.S., Asia, and Europe to help surgeons aid patients with faster recovery and less pain.
Though it has fallen victim to budget problems brought on by disagreements between the Pentagon and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)--according to SRI--the Traumapod, seen here, is "an automated medical treatment system [for the military] that does not require onsite medical personnel on the front lines of battle, and is ready to receive, assess, and stabilize wounded solders during the critical hours following injury."
In 2005, DARPA awarded an SRI multi-organization team a $12 million contract to build it. "The...program is an important step toward ensuring a future generation of battlefield-based unmanned medical treatment systems, or 'trauma pods,' to stabilize injured soldiers within minutes after a battlefield trauma and administer life-saving medical and surgical care prior to evacuation and during transport."
This is a display model in the SRI lobby, of IraqComm, a translation system designed to do bidirectional speech to speech-machine translation between English and everyday Iraqi Arabic. "The IraqComm system provides mobile translation capability to field operators personnel."