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Lehigh research attracts first KIZ technology transfer grant

Rick Blum and his colleagues have worked 15 years to develop technology that can more effectively detect concealed weapons.

They have developed the Portable Multi-Sensor Imaging Fusion System (PMSIFS) technology but have lacked the means to market the potentially life-saving system to law enforcement agencies.

On Feb. 17, Blum, the Robert W. Wieseman Chair in Electrical Engineering, took a huge step toward providing PMSIFS to local police agencies thanks to the first technology transfer grant made through the Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) program.

"Fifteen years of research are finally becoming real," Blum said at a ceremony announcing the grant to SuperVision Technologies Inc., which will market the technology as part of South Bethlehem's KIZ.

Working with Blum to create and market PMSIFS technology are Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania; Leopoldo Mayoral, president of SuperVision Technologies Inc.; and Audree Chase-Mayoral, business developer of SuperVision Technologies Inc.

The Mayorals are moving to Bethlehem from Virginia to market PMSIFS.

"Bethlehem is truly a diamond in the rough," Mayoral said. "When we considered the technology that is being introduced, the available infrastructure, and the welcoming Lehigh professors, we knew this was where we belonged."

Another reason the Mayorals decided to move to Bethlehem was Mayoral's previous interaction with Lehigh alumni. "In my travels and experience in the military, I have come across many Lehigh grads," Mayoral said. "I was always very impressed by how educated, intelligent and hard-working they are."

PMSIFS utilizes Blum's image-fusion algorithms to combine digital optical and millimeter wave photos to produce one fused digital image. The composite photo shows much more than either photo shows by itself and allows police and security officials to surreptitiously search for concealed weapons by scanning clothing and other non-metallic objects.

"Lots of things coming together at Lehigh at the same time are making our research efforts more prosperous," Blum said. "Lehigh students are working on real programs to institute their research. The grant came at just the right time for us."

The technology transfer grant was made possible by the KIZ program, announced by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2004. Richard Overmoyer, deputy secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said the main objective of KIZ is to create high-paying, highly skilled jobs while strengthening Pennsylvania's overall economy.

"This revolutionary program is a unique opportunity for Pennsylvania to benefit from one of our most valuable resources-our world-class college and university system and the entrepreneurial spirit that lives within their walls," Overmoyer said.

Chase-Mayoral agrees that the KIZ program has provided a great opportunity for college students to assist in technology research.

"We are anxious to have students from Lehigh University and Northampton Community College get involved in the project," she said. "It is very rewarding to know that the partnering of our small business with higher education will provide first-hand experience to students while also promoting workforce development."

Gregory Farrington, president of Lehigh, noted that Pennsylvania has the second highest influx of college students from other states, behind only Massachusetts.

"KIZ will play a tremendous role in keeping these students in the Lehigh Valley when they graduate," he said. "It's our responsibility to keep the best, most creative students here. When Lehigh students see that there are real jobs, real opportunities, and a real chance to create a life in this area, there exists a huge incentive to stay."

Chadwick Paul, Jr., CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, said the first technology transfer grant recognizes "the strength of our universities" in the Lehigh Valley.

Overmoyer agrees. "It is the strength of Pennsylvania's universities that sets us apart from other states," he said.

As for PMSIFS technology research, Blum says the KIZ program has played a critical role in bestowing South Side Bethlehem with the technology transfer grant as well as making his research come to life.

"This is a gratifying opportunity to take the results of years of hard work in my lab with my students and now pursue a commercial application," he said. "The KIZ program is the real catalyst to make this transfer of technology possible."

by Maura Kutner '05

Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005

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