It’s always interesting to me to see the kind of technology being developed at local universities, which ends up channeled into (usually) obscure defense and government projects, but which could potentially be spectacular commercial applications.
For example, I ran into a small USC spinoff a few months ago, Sentinal AVE, which develops software which can take live video webcam images, and overlay them into systems like Google Earth/Microsoft Live. As much fun as you can have with consumer oriented, mapping systems, imagine if you could take a live webcam feed –and there are literally millions of these — and overlay them in real time onto a 3D map. Sentinel has a demo which shows web cameras from the USC campus overlaid, in real time, on a 3D (pan/tilt/scroll) map of the campus. Sentinel is currently focusing in on perimeter security systems areas, but I’m surprised that a Microsoft, Google, or Yahoo doesn’t jump on this kind of technology to gain an edge on their competitors in the competitive online mapping space.
Very few companies seem to successfully get from the academic mindset (think research grants/DARPA/large government contracts) into the wider commercial market. Companies which have made or are making that transition here include Language Weaver (another USC spinoff), Fastsoft (Caltech), and Alelo (USC), among others. There’s a huge latent potential in many impressive projects, across the all of the schools here, which are great from the technology standpoint but often fail to make it to commercialization.
Some efforts which are aiming at helping increase the commercial usage of the research in the region–for example, Bob Nidever’s UC in SoCal site, which includes recent info on university related technology licensing and technology transfer, and the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation.