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Crave goes Diving with Dolphins: UK start-ups fly the flag for tech innovation

Crave headed for the UK's own Silicon Fen, meeting a selection of Cambridge start-ups showing off interactive printing, hassle-free online banking and a social network for you and your doctor

This week, Crave headed for the hothouse of technological experimentation, world-class innovation and ill-advised floppy hair that is Cambridge. We met with a selection of start-ups based in the Silicon Fen at showcase event Diving With Dolphins. We're not sure if we're the divers or the dolphins in this metaphor, but let's jump in anyway, with interactive paper, an unfortunately named phone charger, an online banking security system that actually works, plus many more -- and they're all British.

Novalia: Interactive ink

Novalia integrates conductive ink into existing printing processes, to create interactive printed materials. Books, menus, in-store displays and product packaging could have sensors built-in to give different outcomes every time they're used, with software allowing manufacturers to come up with more imaginative solutions than a speaker and a watch battery in one of those greetings cards with the really bad celebrity impressions.

In fact, Novalia showed off a birthday-card concept that included candles that light up when the card is picked up, and has a breath sensor that allows you to 'blow out' the candles, like in the picture above.

HeatLight: Let there be light!

Even the most hardened climate-change sceptic could probably do with cutting a few quid off their 'leccy bill, and HeatLight is designed to do just that. Currently at prototype stage, pictured below, the HeatLight converts warmth from your heating into light.


Set the unit on a radiator or cooker or even a campfire, and it powers a light or other electrical gadget. Lights are activated by a motion sensor so the light is only on when you're in the room.

HeatLight is currently on trial with the NHS. Although a £30 consumer version could be in shops and making us savings by next year, it's big institutions that could cut millions of tonnes of carbon emissions -- and save millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. Other possible applications include soft nightlights for kids, or phone charging in the developing world.

Patients Know Best: Doctor, doctor, I've sent you a friend request

We've seen some niche social networks in our time, but Patients Know Best outdoes them all for potential usefulness.

Patients Know Best uses the social-network model of creating your own profile page that can be accessed online. Your NHS records are available for you to view, along with test results and prescriptions. Crucially, you can also send and receive messages to your clinician. You can even upload home-monitoring results. Pulling your records together in one place and giving you ownership of them is good for your reference, as well as creating a more efficient audit trail for doctors, consultants and GPs.

All your information is kept secure as the system is the only one of its kind that's part of the NHS secure network. You collect a secure PIN in person before logging on, and can then use the portal to cut down on appointments and telephone consultations. To help you understand your condition, relevant links and stats that place your test results in context can appear on your page. In future, features such as requesting repeat prescriptions could be added.

Patients Know Best begins a trial this week at Addenbrooke's Hospital.

Magnifye: The Most Powerful Magnet In The World!

Staying on a health tip, the event included a presentation from Magnifye, a company of Cambridge University boffins who have developed -- wait for it -- The Most Powerful Magnet In The World! The world's strongest permanent magnet has the potential to create a new generation of portable Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) equipment. Those are the scanners that people who've hit their head and think they're Virginia Woolf get slid into in House. The magnets are made from supercooled yttrium barium copper oxide and are so powerful that a one-inch magnet could lift a lorry. Wowsers!

OmniPlug RatPlug: Plug your phone into the Web

You've put your mobile phone on to charge, and look at it. Sitting there, not doing anything except soaking up the juice. Lazy. OmniPlug has created a charger that allows different types of phone to sync content with the Web while the phone is charging, without needing to plug it into a computer. It's called the RatPlug.

Yes, RatPlug. OmniPlug reckons the name is memorable. Unfortunate, and kind of disgusting, but definitely memorable. There are three versions, starting at £50 for a cabled version, followed by a HomePlug model and a £100 Wi-Fi version. Register your handset and online accounts with the OmniPlug Web site and every time you plug your phone in to charge, your photos will be uploaded to Facebook or Flickr, and your music and podcasts will be downloaded from the Web.

RDS Chain Reaction DNA: Get in the middle of a Chain Reaction -- then get nicked

RDS showed a protoype of a door protection system that features an automatic door-arresting device, similar to a door-chain but removing the need for you to remember the chain every time you open the door. The door includes a webcam that captures an image of the home invader and can beam that image to a CCTV monitoring centre, as well as spraying the intruder with a unique DNA-trace chemical. Police can then look for the chemical on a suspect's skin with a UV torch.

Already on the market and on people's doors is the Chain Reaction DNA system, which weds the old-school door-chain with a high-tech DNA-trace spray. When the chain is forced, an alarm goes off and the spray is activated, filling the doorway with a mist of DNA spray that coats anyone going in out or out.

There are a vast number of possible DNA combinations -- RDS told us a 1 and 49 zeroes would just about cover it -- and because each unique DNA trace is registered to each address, it's admissible as evidence in court. This also means it's RDS which goes to court, and not necessarily the victim. Installation costs £200 for a canister that lasts five years. If that sounds a lot, it could be offset by improved insurance premiums.

Dust-Bug: Motes interesting

Dust. Anybody? No? Dust. The University of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences has developed this video microscope, nicknamed the 'Dust-Bug', which spots patterns in build-ups of dust. Seriously.


While you'll probably never have one in your house -- unless your levels of cleanliness are in the Howard Hughes realms, in which case you have bigger problems than a bit of dust -- it's a godsend for museums, stately homes, hospitals and other large institutions. Smaller versions of this prototype can analyse whether the amount of dust and fibres generated by visitors is damaging delicate paintings, tapestries and fabrics.

That information is Bluetoothed or Wi-Fied to a central monitoring station -- form an orderly queue for that job -- where decisions can be made on whether to keep visitors an extra metre from a painting, staff uniforms can be made of fabrics that shed fewer fibres, or cleaning schedules can be optimised to cut down on unnecessary cleaning.

Remember the first time you logged into online banking? Life-changing, wasn't it? No more wasting your lunch break queuing for one of two open windows in your local HSBarcWest, no more holding for 90 minutes then repeating your 14-digit card number to three different call-centre monkeys, and no more traipsing to the cashpoint to find out whether that cheque from ClaimsDirect has cleared so you can buy yourself a new footspa. Brilliant.

Then chip-and-PIN card readers came along and ruined everything. Fortunately, Cronto visual transaction signing is a new security solution that sees online banking go together with your mobile phone like Howard from the Halifax goes with the desire to put your foot through your TV.

Each time you perform a transaction online, like paying a bill or setting up a standing order, the Cronto system generates a unique cryptogram. Scan this with an app on your phone and the sofware verifies you are who you say you are.

Cronto isn't in place with any UK banks just yet. Commerzbank, the second largest bank in Germany, has adopted the system, which is compatible with iPhone, Java, Android, Symbian and other mobile platforms. The app is an over-the-air download. The bank posts you a unique barcode, which you scan with your phone, and your handset is then registered to you.

The system replaces those intensely annoying and inherently flawed card readers that so many online banking systems now require. Think they're there to protect your money? Nope -- they're there to shift the blame to you should someone nick your money. As well as being insanely fiddly, card readers are flawed because they use the same PIN you use in public, in such potentially unsavoury locations as hacked cash machines, strip clubs and high-street coffee chains.

Cronto, by contrast, doesn't require any input from a user. The process is automated between the barcode generated by the Web site and the software in the phone. It's also more portable as you're more likely to carry your phone around than a stupid little card reader.

Of course, someone could pinch your phone, but that's what SIM lock and passcodes are for, right? Right, do excuse us -- we're off to see if that cheque from the medical trial has cleared, and possibly ask someone if our urine is supposed to be that colour.