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The I stands for Invention, too

December 1, 2013

As the new year begins, here’s a tiny sample of what’s new from IU Bloomington faculty, who are inventing, now and for the future.

Heard of the Twitter Predictor? Invented by Johan Bollen, associate professor of informatics and computing at IU Bloomington, the predictor is a social media mood-tracking system designed to predict how economic markets, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, will perform.

The predictor emerged from Bollen’s hypothesis that the stock market’s performance reflects public mood, and that public mood can be measured. Bollen’s system does this by analyzing general sentiments (calm, happy, etc.) detected in hundreds of millions of tweets. It then correlates those sentiments to shifts in the performance of the Dow Jones or other indicators.

It really works. Using his mood-tracking system, Bollen achieved an accuracy rate of 87.6% in predicting the daily ups and downs in the closing values of the Dow Jones.

In February 2013, Bollen and the IU Research & Technology Corp. received U.S. Patent No. 8,380,607. It licenses the invention, formally titled “Predicting Economic Trends via Network Communication Mood Tracking,” to Bollen’s start-up company, Guidewave Consulting, which Bollen formed after his predictor attracted international media, and investor, attention.

Bollen is just one of many IU faculty assisted by the IURTC in pursuing the possible commercial potential of their research discoveries. As of September 2013, the IURTC’s total number of active U.S. patents stood at 179. In July 2013, the organization announced that IU invention disclosures—required before filing for a U.S. patent—have nearly doubled since 2009, reaching 230 in FY 2012.

“Submitting an invention disclosure is the first step for faculty who want to transform their IU research into a product or service that can benefit the public,” says Marie Kerbeshian, IURTC vice president of technology commercialization. “The tremendous growth in disclosures over the past few years reflects the growing desire of IU faculty to engage in technology commercialization.”

A focus on fighting blindness

Like Bollen, Ann Elsner, a professor of optometry and associate dean for research at the IU School of Optometry, has formed a company—Aeon Imaging—to further her invention, a digital camera that quickly and inexpensively images the eye’s retina.

Retinal imaging is especially crucial for people with diabetes, a disease affecting 25.8 million people in the United States, or 8.3 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Institutes of Health. People with diabetes frequently suffer deterioration of their retinas, called diabetic retinopathy. According to the NIH, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20–74 years,  disproportionately affecting minorities and the underserved, especially among Hispanic populations.

Often, diabetic retinopathy produces no symptoms until the damage is done, making early detection essential. Aeon Imaging’s camera—which uses a simplified design to scan light across the retina–makes early detection easier and more cost-effective, particularly among underserved populations. With the camera’s technology now patented and licensed (with help from the IURTC), Elsner and her colleagues at Aeon Imaging are focused on reducing the cost of the device while maintaining the key functions that eye care providers want.

“A new series of clinical studies, funded by the National Eye Institute, is set to begin this fall,” says Elsner. “The goal is to provide technology that removes the cost barrier for screening for diabetic retinopathy and allows communities to provide treatment.”

Making Hubo

Kris Hauser, assistant professor of computer science and informatics, and members of his Intelligent Motion Laboratory at IU Bloomington are helping to build Hubo, a complete humanoid, or robot. Hauser’s lab and members from nine other universities are creating Hubo as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) robotics challenge, a competition to invent robots that can work in disaster situations. For their part, Hauser and colleagues are programming Hubo to climb a ladder. The challenge ends with finals in 2014.

From the structure of DNA (co-discovered by IU graduate James Dewey Watson, PhD’50, DSc’63) to the social media universe, IU inventors are a brilliant lot. Among other IU inventions in development are new treatments for chronic pain and acute kidney injuries, a new method for identifying and treating cavities, hydrogen storage technology for potential renewable energy applications, and a fungus to help plants grow in polluted wetlands. Just to name a few.

For more on IU faculty and alumni gazing into the future, see the Winter 2013 issue of the Indiana Alumni Magazine (membership required to read full issue online).