From Three-Month Ice to Fast Broadband Everywhere: Some Projects You Might Not Know About From Intellectual Ventures Lab

4/21/11Follow @curtwoodward

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says, it was only possible to keep regular ice from melting for something like three days. Intellectual Ventures reworked the idea and now has something that can keep ice cold for about three months.

“What we built was an outstanding thermos bottle,” Deane says—and one that is seriously rugged. “You can put it in the corner of a mud hut in the middle of a heat wave, a flood, and a revolution, and you reach in three months later and the vaccine will come out cold,” he says. Intellectual Ventures plans to begin testing the dewar sometime in the next three months, and is currently looking for partner countries to host the experiments.

Wave-bending metamaterials. This project tackles the problem of expensive, intricate antennas needed to keep in contact with satellites above the Earth. Intellectual Ventures is developing an advanced antenna made of metamaterials—a circuitboard-like collection of extremely small structures that can bend energy waves in ways that natural materials can’t.

Cloaking devices are often mentioned as a possible use for these metamaterials, a fantastic-sounding but not entirely practical target. As Intellectual Ventures dryly notes on its blog, “the commercial implementation of such products are a ways off.”

But the metamaterials do show real promise in making a super-antenna that can steer communications beams with no external engines, very little energy use—and supremely small size.

So what’s that good for? Cheap, fast broadband speeds all the time, anywhere on the planet. Intellectual Ventures says its metamaterial surface antennas and the next generation of cheaper satellites will make this possible.

And by the way, hot tech startups aren’t the only businesses in the Seattle area hiring right now. Intellectual Ventures has grown to more than 700 employes worldwide and it’s continuing to add staff in the invention lab.

“We’re in a really exciting phase,” Deane says. “You go back a few years ago, we started the lab with a very small number of people—you can count them on one hand. Today, the number of people who are operating in the lab are around 80, and at the moment I think we have 25 openings.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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