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Remember invisibility cloak tech? It's useful for talking to satellites

Intellectual Ventures' second spinoff is translating research in so-called metamaterials into cheaper and easier-to-use communications equipment for plans, ships, and eventually even your individual hot spot.

That bulbous protrusion in the front of many planes and pilotless drones could become a thing of the past if Intellectual Ventures' second spinout company pans out.

Executives at the Bellevue, Wash. patent-holding company today are expected to unveil Kymeta, a 15-employee company that's applying so-called metamaterials to satellite communications. Its first products, most likely for aircraft, should be available commercially by 2015. Eventually, executives say, Kymeta's technology could find its way to ships, trains, and even come in the form of a personal satellite hot spot that's about the size of a typical laptop computer.

You may remember a quick round of gee-whiz technology about this technology three years when academics were talking about their ability to bend light and create an "invisibility cloak." Kymeta, and the products it's working on, are the practical application of that research.

Intellectual Ventures

The new company just closed a $12 million funding round with money from Bill Gates, Liberty Global, and Lux Capital. It will be based in nearby Redmond, and could within a year have over 75 employees. Intellectual Ventures' first spinoff is focusing on building new, cleaner nuclear reactors. (For more on Intellectual Ventures, go here.)

Metamaterial research is relatively new and is based on early work done at Duke University and Imperial College in the United Kingdom. In a nutshell, it allows engineers to bend electromagnetic waves in unnatural ways. In practice, that means the heavy and expensive mechanical gimbal used by aircraft to maintain satellite connections (that's why you see that protrusion on planes) could become a thing of the past, said Casey Tegreene, an executive vice president at Intellectual Ventures as well as its chief patent counsel. While it's hard to say what the final price of Kymeta's products will be, eliminating those gimbals should drastically reduce both the price and difficulty of installing satellite equipment.

In case you were wondering, yes, Intellectual Ventures holds the patents for this technology, and it's been working with the professors involved in its development for several years. The technology has been under development in the company's labs for about two years. Vern Fotheringham, a longtime communications industry veteran will run the new company.

No word on when they'll have that invisibility cloak ready for consumers.