Students, academics hope their inventions will make it big New ideas grow and flourish at tertiary institutions, and the Hong Kong Electronics Fair proves this point with Frontiers of Brainpower, a concurrent event serving as a forum for universities, research institutions and incubators to showcase projects that may be tomorrow's success stories. 'We have been doing it for a few years now,' says Anne Chick, senior exhibitions manager, Hong Kong Trade Development Council, organisers of the fair. 'These new technologies and ideas may blend with some companies' existing products as upgrades.' For example, Dr Hong Yan, professor of computer engineering at City University, hopes to find potential clients in the music industry with his virtual news reader/singer, a machine that can recognise human speech and song, and put a face to the sound. 'We will present an eight-minute demo video at the fair, featuring an animated figure with synchronised speech and head movements,' he says. 'The mouth co-ordination is very good, but the head movement needs more work.' Professor Yan thinks karaoke enthusiasts will be among the first to enjoy his invention. 'People now sing to random pictures, but imagine being able to choose someone to sing along with you. It could be a model who might be Western or Asian, and you can also pick the hairstyle,' he says. Students attending lectures could benefit from the invention. 'If it's someone lecturing with a serious face, it could be quite boring for children. But if you let the children choose the voice and the person they like, such as a character from Disney, they might pay more attention to the material,' Professor Yan says. With 3G mobile communications set to be the future, the academic believes his invention could work with the system and provide multimedia messaging, allowing the user to choose a face and a voice to deliver a message. For example, soccer superstar David Beckham could be invoked to say: 'Want to play football?' Professor Yan thinks his technology has much to offer. 'Let's say you are in bed but you do not want the other side to see you,' he says. 'With this technology, you can create a smiley face to send someone.' Another function of the technology is its ability to read text like a newsreader, although Professor Yan does not think that his program, at this stage, poses any threat to human news anchors. Talks are under way with an Australian computer company on a possible collaboration, and the professor hopes to see his invention come to market in one or two years' time. While some inventions deal with sounds, others handle images, such as Jason Ho Ying-fai's PhotoRite. Mr Ho, a graduate of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, is working under the Information Technology Entrepreneur Programme, set up with government and industry funding and infrastructure and resources support from the university. The programme aims to nurture young entrepreneurs in the field of technology. To enter the programme, a candidate should present a project that is deemed to be creative and marketable, such as Mr Ho's PhotoRite, a program that analyses and enhances digital images in a second at the press of a button. 'My invention has four main advantages. It is automatic, fast, has low system requirements, and can take a digital image in any condition and turn it into a quality one,' he says. 'Some imaging software has an auto-adjust function but cannot correct shaded images, as my program does.' PhotoRite is a user-friendly application that requires minimum computer knowledge. A Symbian version is available for use on portable hardware such as camphones and PDAs. At the fair, Mr Ho will take snapshots of visitors and demonstrate on the spot how his invention works. 'With camphones, most of which do not have a flash, you would get almost nothing, say, in a restaurant or other dark indoor environments,' he says. 'The image data is there but is just not properly displayed. PhotoRite enhances the data and boosts the image into something that resembles what you see with the naked eye.' Mr Ho hopes to make PhotoRite an internationally known name. Other inventions being showcased at Brainpower include Enterprise SMS Solution by Dr Qing Li and Dr Liu Weny at City University. The program can translate e-mail commands into SMS messages and broadcast them to recipients worldwide. Switching Power Supply by Dr Bryan Pong, associate professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Hong Kong, helps to greatly reduce the size of power supplies. A power converter using SPS that is less than 20 per cent the size of its counterparts will also be displayed at the fair. This technology has been patented in the United States. Dr Pong's team is no stranger to breakthroughs. More than 30 companies have licensed the technologies they have produced.