The Picks Are...
by PRESEARCH Inc.
by Verity Inc.
by Silicon Graphics Inc.
DCS 460 digital camera
by Eastman Kodak Co.
by American Hytech Corp.
Washington Technology's editors decided this year to inaugurate a new award in our annual Star Tech review of best new products -- the Editor's Choice, for a product we liked and saw great potential in, but that somehow didn't fit easily into a category.
Our first WT Editor's Choice award goes to PRESEARCH Inc.'s Pathfinder, an intelligence analysis system created for the National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville, Va., which is part of the U.S. Army's Intelligence and Security Command.
This year's award goes to the seventh version of Pathfinder. The original version, 1.5, was developed on a personal computer, though version 7.0 can take advantage of the most powerful computer workstation arrangements.
Pathfinder's first mission in the early '80s was for science and technology analysts who could point it at international repositories of, say, chemical weapons research.
By coordinating and sifting scientific journal articles and other sources, Pathfinder could help analysts zero in on technology development -- especially of the threatening kind -- in places such as Iran and Iraq.
Pathfinder's unusual heritage -- the government has spent about $7 million developing it since 1982, and owns the rights to it -- separated it from the rest of the Star Tech pack.
We liked Pathfinder because we had the opportunity to use it unbeknownst to its creators, though we won't say where. If it ever goes commercial (right now, Pathfinder is available for free to government agencies, minus the commercially available search engine), it will satisfy an increasingly lucrative need: How to find, use and sort data on the Internet's World Wide Web, and the growing number of databases along the information superhighway.
To that end, PRESEARCH is working on an agreement with the National Technical Information Center to make Pathfinder commercially available.
PRESEARCH, based in Fairfax, Va., employs more than 200 people and also operates a subsidiary, Control Concepts, which manufactures specialized hardware and provides technical services. The privately owned, 33-year-old company has its roots working with the U.S. Navy's antisubmarine warfare programs, and makes about 98 percent of its money from government contracts -- 85 percent of which come from the Department of Defense.
Pathfinder's popularity should increase as law enforcement agencies pick up on its capability to crunch data from a variety of sources, said Lynn A. Montgomery, PRESEARCH's vice president of information systems.
"Even though the system was developed for science and technology analysis, it's very adaptable for non-traditional intelligence," he said.
That includes some advanced detective work. Pathfinder can generate trails and leads from raw deposition data, illustrating paths and directions suspects in a crime might take to evade capture.
Also, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, U.S. intelligence workers have the whole world to worry about, with fewer resources. Pathfinder can crunch, matrix and cross-reference satellite map data and other images, making a single human intelligence analyst much more powerful and efficient.
Pathfinder could be useful in finding, using and sorting data on the Internet's World Wide Web, and the growing number of databases along the information superhighway.
DCS 460 digital camera
Eastman Kodak Co.
The Eastman Kodak Co.'s winning entry may forever change the photographic industry. The DCS 460 digital camera aims to turn the camera into the digital front end for computing systems -- instantly capturing images in the binary language of computers, which can then store, retrieve, print and distribute them however their owners see fit. This means the end of the analog film industry, and all the chemicals and messy dark rooms that have been its mainstay for more than a century. It also means that images will be dramatically easier, and cheaper, to manipulate than ever before. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service uses the camera to capture non-conventional media tax returns as part of its new document processing system. As volume sales begin, prices should begin to fall. Still, this is no consumer product, and it costs tens of thousands of dollars to integrate the camera as a front end to existing systems. The camera itself features 36-bit color, the ability to store images on a removable card compatible with many computers, and a resolution of six million pixels, compared to the 1.3 million resolution of earlier models. It weighs just 3.75 pounds, way down from the 15-pound earlier model. It approaches 35 mm analog film. The sensor technology behind the camera, which is essentially a shrunken version of technology initially developed by Kodak for spy satellites, mounts on the back of a Nikon N90 camera.
American Hytech Corp.
Not many minority-owned government contractors make a successful transition out of the government set-aside program, much less the transition into the commercial product business. But American Hytech Corp., Pittsburgh, Pa., may be set to make both transitions. The firm's winning product is known as NetGuru. Its premise is logical enough: Find a way to more effectively design, test, simulate and manage complex networks of PCs. So American Hytech developed a Windows-based product that uses object-oriented technology -- a kind of Lego approach to software programming -- to streamline the tedious business of network management. Possible network designs can be simulated on the screen, tested, debugged and analyzed. There are certainly plenty of companies claiming to do what American Hytech is doing. But products with similar features sell for more than $5,000, while American Hytech's local area network design product goes for $500. The product itself emerged from challenges the company faced in numerous systems integration projects, with more than 35 man-years of programming toil behind the product.
Silicon Graphics Inc.
Silicon Graphics Inc., Mountain View, Calif., introduced the POWER Onyx in July 1994. This is an impressive machine -- the Porsche of graphics and visualization workstations. At the heart of the POWER Onyx is a 64-bit MIPS R8000 microprocessor, which provides roughly the floating point computing power of a Cray-YMP processor. A typical Cray supercomputer four years ago cost about $10 million, and to provide visualization -- the structure of a molecule or the effect of a simulated car crash -- a customer would have to fork over another $50,000 or so for a front-end workstation. Now, for $100,000 the POWER Onyx can provide all of this in a single computer. The computer itself can be scaled from 1-to 12 processors to supply up to 3.6 billion operations per second of peak performance. It is targeted for science and engineering applications, particularly modeling for oil and gas exploration, molecular modeling and computational chemistry, geographic information systems using satellite imagery and aerial photography, and the modeling of complex phenomena such as weather pattern analysis and prediction. SGI is targeting federal and commercial sites looking to upgrade older Cray supercomputers, and it is also looking to add the Onyx to existing computers as an additional tool for visualizing data.
Verity Inc., Mountain View, Calif., has been a longtime supplier of advanced information search and retrieval products for the intelligence community. With the introduction last year of its Topic Agents, Verity has crafted that expertise into a powerful set of commercial tools for publishing and retrieving information online, particularly on the World Wide Web. Lotus Development Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Adobe Corp. have incorporated the technology into their online publishing and communication products, and hundreds of federal systems integrators have developed applications for federal customers, generating more than $3 million in annual revenues for Verity. Netscape, the Windows of the Internet, is going to embed Verity's Web searcher in its Web server product. The technology itself, developed by Dr. Richard Tong, allows users to search for information by subject topic, and a user can further specify where to look for information as well as how and when to present it. Three types of agents, watchers, searchers and analysts, perform these tasks. Such agents are oft-cited as the solution to the deluge of information now flooding the Internet.