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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government
|Volume VI, Issue 12||December 2003|
By Philip Helgerson
Just imagine touring Augusta, equipped with a user-friendly “Smart Map” that fits into your jacket pocket, about the size of a small camera or personal assistant. Simply point the device toward the state capital building and learn its history. Intelligent Spatial Technologies (IST) is researching and developing location based services (LBS) - dynamic GIS-based applications driven by orientation and location sensors that run on mobile computing devices.
Chris Frank, founder and president of IST thought it would be great to offer a hand held mapping device for users to identify landmarks and facilities. With the help of the Target Technology Center in Orono, Frank founded IST in April 2003, as an opportunity to realize the commercial potential of the innovative technology developed during his Masters research into a sensor based mobile spatial query system.
Location-based services are a powerful way to deliver information. LBS offers users the ability to quickly locate, identify, and document specific features, buildings, conditions, or other information. Mapping utilities or facilities, for example, could provide instant access to a large database of information based on location.
With applications that are mobile, flexible, and up to the minute, the LBS industry is expected to grow rapidly in the next five years as wireless carriers establish their strategies.
An example of Maine’s emerging new technology business community, Frank was one of three presenters representing “Maine’s Creative Future” at the Maine Development Foundation’s ( http://www.mdf.org/ ) annual conference in Augusta.
Equipped with integrated
geospatial positioning, navigation, and wayfinding information, IST’s visionary
device will down-link specific information based on precise location and
positioning. Frank developed this concept and the tools to accomplish the
vision while a graduate student at the University of Maine in Orono. By knowing
where someone is and what direction they are facing, IST is developing mapping
systems that automatically align to the user and instantly provide relevant
information about nearby geographic objects.
As part of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, ( www.ncgia.maine.edu ) Frank was among the researchers that moved into the Target Technology Center when it opened in 2002. The NCGIA is an independent research consortium dedicated to basic research and education in geographic information science and related technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS). University researchers occupy about a third of the space at the center. The University presence at the Target Center also includes computer technology researchers who use a “super-computer” in the center, made up of more than two hundred PC’s linked serially to comprise a high speed, high capacity computing capability that ranks among the fastest and biggest in the world.
The Target Technology Center offered Chris Frank the opportunity to transition his research and development into a commercial venture. Target Center director Debbie Neuman, explains, “Chris moved his office from the research spaces at one end of the building, down the hall to incubator space, where he has now started Intelligent Spatial Technologies.” With the help of the Target Center, Frank has received seed grant funding from the Maine Technology Institute, and commercialization assistance from technology business counselor Meriby Sweet. Frank has received help in developing a business plan for his idea, and has received help from Woody Higgins, who has an on-site office of the Maine Patent Law Program, offering assistance in intellectual property matters.
While Frank fine-tunes the technology, he also takes part in scheduled business training programs in entrepreneurship and business management, at the center. Everything is in one convenient location, close to campus, down the hall from his research colleagues, and across the hall from other emerging entrepreneurs.
SmartMap version 1 will be ready for commercialization in 2004, and sales of the product will support investigation into more complex research issues and development of the next phase of products. IST was recently awarded a MTI seed grant to support the process of filing a patent for these innovative technologies, and has won a subcontract with the University of Maine to develop two prototype versions of the SmartMap. Additional funding is being sought through several federal grants.
The Target Technology Center is one of seven Applied Technology Development Centers established by the Department of Economic and Community Development. Each Center is independently operated as a non-profit corporation. Like the other centers, the Target Center offers office space and shared equipment and facilities at a reasonable cost, and delivers personalized training and business support services to its client firms. Companies like IST can operate from offices located at the center, or can choose to take part as “Affiliates,” participating in programs and resources, but maintaining a company location elsewhere.
Nationally, companies that have had the benefit of business incubator programs achieve higher success and growth rates than other firms, and have a higher survival rate. According to the National Business Incubation Association, more than 80% of incubator graduate firms are still in business five years after graduation from their centers.
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 Mr. Frank also has a Bachelors of Science degree in Spatial Information Science and Engineering as well as a minor in Computer Science. As entrepreneur and president, Chris is the driving force behind IST. He is dedicated to establishing a successful technology company in Maine and creating exciting opportunities for other graduates to work in this field.
 For more information see A Public/Private Collaboration Promoting Maine Businesses By Philip Helgerson, Maine IS Technology Newsletter, November 2003 http://www1.maine.gov/newsletter/nov2003/a_public.htm.