You've seen the story. A lone engineer toils away in a makeshift laboratory for years with very little money, but a lot of perspiration, grit and determination. Finally, one day, the scientist makes a startling discovery and changes the way the world thinks about science.
Thomas Edison is the name that comes to mind for that story, but it might be playing out these days in Huntsville, Ala., by a scientist named Larry Fullerton.
Fullerton, an electrical engineer, has perfected a technology that some experts say could revolutionize communications and radar systems. Some call Fullerton's invention as important as the transistor or light bulb.
His work was recognized recently by Hugh O'Brien, a former actor who has created a foundation to recognize modern day heroes. While Fullerton sat on the stage with Gen. Colin Powell, hotelier Willard Marriott and Daimler-Chrysler executive Robert Eaton, Fullerton's achievements were compared to Thomas Edison by the emcee, CNN's Larry King. He was also cited by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation's top innovators in the magazine's "Outlook 2000" edition.
That's pretty heady stuff for the low-key and introverted 49-year-old Fullerton, who patented his idea and started Time Domain in the same year, 1987.
Fullerton's invention has some pretty high-tech labels. The official name is Time Modulated Ultra Wideband (TM-UWB). Some call it digital pulse wireless. On the company's business cards, executives simply call the technology "the new wireless medium."
Company executives have spent $9 million to develop the technology they call PulsON and imbed the technology on microchips fabricated by IBM. One of IBM's vice presidents says he got goose bumps when he first witnessed Time Domain's technology.
Although Time Domain's executives have struggled to get the technology to the marketplace, the company has picked up momentum in recent years, generating $42 million in venture capital from some of the world's top names. Recently, Siemens AG anted up $5 million to help the company.
"We believe the PulsON technology is a rare and fundamental technology that has the potential to not only redefine the wireless industry, but even create new industries," says Bjoern Christensen, president of Mustang Ventures, Siemens' venture capital group.
Despite the advanced state of the
technology, PulsON is expected to be used in some pretty down-to-earth applications
in wireless communications, radar and positioning. For instance:
* New home alert systems could be developed that could distinguish whether that movement in your home is a cat or a cat burglar.
* Advanced radar systems could help police detect motion through the walls of homes, find victims who are buried underneath earthquake rubble or spot non-metallic land mines.
* Devices could transmit video, telephone signals and the Internet into homes without wires. You could move a TV and its reception to cable TV anywhere in the house without the coaxial cable.
* Cell phones would also have more range and experience less interference.
* Pinpoint locations of anyplace on Earth within inches.
* The military is interested in the technology because it could create communication systems that can't easily be jammed, penetrates obstacles easily and the signals are virtually impossible to detect.
One important factor in how this technology develops will be the growth of the wireless communication industry. The proliferation of wireless communication devices, particularly cell phones, is putting an increasing strain on the radio frequencies that are available. The number of those devices are expected to triple in the next few years. However, Time Domain's technology can clear all of those hurdles for the burgeoning wireless communications industry once its technology makes it through the federal bureaucracy.
Research Engineer, Inventor,
Founder of Time Domain Corp