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Discoveries in government technology

Currently the only high tech trade show left in Canada after the demise of Comdexrn

At the recent GTEC trade show in Ottawa, I made a welcome discovery: There’s still interesting technology to be found in the little booths along the back wall.

It used to be a principle of trade shows that while the big names tried to outdo each other with huge booths, sound systems and gimmicks

but displayed mostly me-too technology, you could always find something really interesting in the little 10-by-10-feet booths, usually tucked away in the least desirable corners of the show floor.

Recently I’ve despaired of trade shows, usually limiting myself to a brief walk through the booths and maybe a visit to one or two exhibitors I knew in advance I wanted to look at.


There’s little new. But GTEC offered a few — maybe more, there wasn’t time to look at every booth — really interesting ideas.

For instance, Telbotics Inc. This Toronto company shared a booth with several other small members of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) in the show’s Public Safety and Security Pavilion. But what its technology is currently doing hasn’t much to do with security. The Telbotics folks call themselves “”the telepresence people.”” Their product is a variation on videoconferencing, but with a twist. Instead of using big screens that show roomfuls of people, they create something roughly like a robot to represent each participant. It’s topped with a rotating monitor that displays the remote participant’s face.

Robots for kids

This is currently being tried out in some schools as a way for children with long-term illnesses to continue participating in classes from their hospital beds. A simple robot sits at the child’s desk. The teacher and classmates see the child’s face displayed on its monitor, which looks something like a head. The robot can’t actually move around the classroom, but it can raise a mechanical hand when the child wants to answer a question.

It works best in elementary schools, Telbotics president Michael McHale says, because kids don’t have to move from classroom to classroom throughout the day. He says the technology could also be used as a replacement for traditional teleconferencing systems.

At the same booth as Telbotics was OptoSecurity Inc. from Quebec City. A spinoff from the Institut National d’Optique, it’s applying optical correlator technology to biometric face recognition. The beauty of this approach, according to Alan Aitken, OptoSecurity’s vice-president, is that it’s all optical and therefore much faster than the traditional electronic pattern recognition approach. The only thing that worries me is that it may encourage indiscriminate use of biometrics in public places, which is way too big-brotherish for me.

HumanResolve Inc.’s main business is technology that lets call-centre operators talk to customers while they browse Web pages and guide them through Web sites by remote control.

The human resolve

This idea is not completely new. What is new is something HumanResolve is trying out called MyPersonalCircle. It’s a free service that lets two or more people on the Web hook up in the same way, carrying on a text chat while one participant directs the other’s browsers to different Web sites.

MyPersonalCircle is still in development, and this showed in my tests at home — it worked most of the time, but was slow to start up and occasionally one PC failed to follow the leader.

It’s an intriguing idea, though.