InnovUS e-news 17th edition

October 2012

InnovUS Instant Access™ licensing: Short cut to technology

Forward with technology. Away with red tape. With this approach InnovUS will minimise the frustrations and obstacles which so often go hand in hand with the licensing of new but untested technologies to private organisations. InnovUS Instant Access™ licensing now provides easy access to certain leading technologies in its intellectual property portfolio.

InnovUS, Stellenbosch University’s technology transfer company, supports the University’s researchers and students in the further development or commercialisation of their ideas and inventions through patenting, licensing and establishing spin-out companies.

In the past the licensing of utilisation rights to organisations in the private sector has, however, created headaches due to tedious procedures. InnovUS Instant Access™ licensing will meet the need for a streamlined process and provide the private sector with the opportunity of introducing new technologies in the workplace effortlessly and without any financial expenses beforehand. With this initiative InnovUS is hoping to forge strong bonds with business partners in the private sector, improve competitiveness and stimulate job creation.

This initiative, inspired by the international Easy Access IP model that was started by three universities in the United Kingdom, is already applied by 11 universities from right across the world. InnovUS also held discussions with Dr Kevin Cullen, chief executive officer of the technology transfer company at the University of New South Wales in Australia (previously from Glasgow University) who played a leading role in the establishment of the Easy Access IP initiative. Dr Cullen rightly pointed out that universities’ right of existence is vested in the generation and distribution of knowledge to the benefit of the public.  

The Easy Access IP model offers universities an opportunity to maximise their knowledge transfer and simultaneously build a good relationship with the industry. Due to conflict with South African legislation about intellectual property rights of publicly funded research and development, the model had to be adapted quite considerably for application in the South African technology transfer environment.  

InnovUS’s technology portfolio is available on its website and provides information on new technologies within specific industries. These include renewable energy and power station generation, medical devices, services, software and models, life sciences, engineering and physical sciences.

The medical field offers for instance a device which makes the diagnosis of microbacterial tuberculosis among especially young children easier and more reliable, as well as a new procedure for partial knee replacement which holds the benefit of a far more comfortable prosthesis based on individual needs.  

As far as science is concerned, researchers came up with affordable light-weight water filter bags, and a new manufacturing technology was patented for magnetic gears as well as for a neutron detection system for the sensitive and effective detection of neutron influence in the high radiation environment of a nuclear reactor.

Another interesting invention is a simple yet accurate method for melamine detection in food which inter alia will help control boards to test foods, particularly imported products from countries that have experienced food tampering in the past.

Organisations interested in employing any of the new technologies can submit a motivation, and upon approval InnovUS will arrange a meeting between the organisation and relevant researchers to conclude the InnovUS Instant Access™ licensing. This is a standard two-page license in a simplified format that grants approval for the full commercial use of the patented technologies for up to three years in order to determine its impact and potential.

Utilisation of the SU’s technologies is free during the test period but any income generated during this process will be subject to a minimum annual license fee of R1 000 or 1% of the income generated, whichever is the highest amount.

In their endeavour to achieve academic and scientific excellence, the researchers and inventors at Stellenbosch University are constantly shifting technological boundaries to the benefit of the people of our country and our economy.


Former Matie tells about Mars mission

Some 300 students and staff were lucky enough to experience the excitement of receiving first-hand information about a revolutionary space travel when they were addressed by Dr Japie van Zyl, who played a leading role in NASA’s Curiosity mission to the Red Planet. Upon invitation of InnovUS, the SU’s technology transfer company, he delivered a lecture on campus.

Dr Van Zyl, a former Matie, is co-director of Project Formulation and Strategy at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and was closely involved in the successful landing of the Curiosity space probe on Mars on 6 August this year.

In the late seventies he obtained his degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the SU, whereupon he received bursaries to further his studies in Engineering and Physics at Caltech (California Institute of Technology). In 1986 he joined JPL and is currently also an extraordinary professor in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the SU.

The purpose of the Curiosity mission is to ascertain whether life could have existed on Mars, Dr Van Zyl told a packed lecture hall. According to him some people think they are searching for rabbits, but he explained that they are not looking for signs of life as we know it here on earth, but rather elements of life such as water and possible sources of energy.

“But it would have been wonderful if we could have a photo of a rabbit!” he joked.

If there is no longer any life on the Red Planet, but indeed signs of a former life, what happened to it, for how long did it last and when did it cease to exist? These are some of the most pertinent questions which they hope to be able to get answers to within the next two years.

Dr Van Zyl showed the audience a short video of the landing of the Curiosity craft and showed photos of Mars. There are many similarities between earth and Mars, he said, such as sand dunes, crevices, volcanoes and deserts. These remind him of Namibia where he grew up.

According to him it was extremely difficult to ensure that Curiosity, a travelling chemical laboratory of three tons and as large as a Mini Cooper, landed successfully on Mars. By the time the craft reached the atmosphere, it was travelling at 21 000 km/h and the craft’s kinetic energy was equal to the kinetic energy of 18 000 Formula One cars all moving at top speed.

In order to place the landing into perspective, he explained: “It is sort of like asking Ernie Els to tee off here in Cape Town, and have the golf ball land in the cup at St Andrews in Scotland. To make Ernie’s task more difficult, he does not know the weather conditions in Scotland. And if this is not enough, the cup is moving at 100 000 km/h!”

The craft landed in the crater Gale near the mountain Mount Sharp and will now start exploring Mars. The six-wheel craft will have to find its own way to where the engineers want it to go. It can determine height and depth and can climb over obstacles of half a metre high, but cannot determine the softness of sand and there is a possibility that it could get stuck.

“When one of the 2004 space probes got stuck, I received various e-mails from Namibia from people who offered to drive it out of the sand!” Dr Van Zyl joked.

Curiosity’s first challenge is to climb the 6 km high Mount Sharp and analyse layer upon layer of rock. “The bottom rocks are the oldest and the top layer the youngest. These represent millions of years of Mars’s history. We will be able to research whether there has ever been any life and if indeed, for how long.”

Questions were asked about how Curiosity will succeed in doing this, since it generates only 110 Watts of power.  However, the torque provided to an individual wheel of the craft is more than the total torque provided by a Ford V8’s engine to all its wheels together, he explained. “This is how we will reach the top of that mountain: slowly and purposefully.”

According to him the mission will still be regarded as a success, even if nothing further happens. “The purpose of a mission such as this is to learn how to land, and about the history of Mars. Everyone, including institutions in South Africa, will be able to benefit from this information because we can convey it to a new generation of engineers and physicists.”

To a question about whether the days of human astronauts are over, he answered: “I do not believe it is over, but with a craft there are fewer things to be concerned about, such as oxygen and heat.” However, he does not believe that it will be possible to send a human being to Mars within the next 20 years.

Dr Van Zyl is very excited about South Africa’s progress in space research and admires what he describes as “Africa resourcefulness”. He also warned Prof Herman Steyn, head of the SU’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, to keep a number of microsatellites ready, since JPL could perhaps use them in future missions, such as to Jupiter’s moon Europe.

He spoke highly of the good education and strong foundation he received at the SU, and said it played a major role in his success. “The grounding in engineering I received here at Stellenbosch cannot be equalled,” he said.


New company targets solar energy market

In the future renewable energy will be an increasingly important source of energy and the SU is in an excellent position to help develop this energy market. A spin-out company has just been established to employ existing expertise at the SU to deliver commercial services in the solar energy market.  Riaan Meyer, research engineer at the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at the SU and chief executive of GeoSUN Africa (Pty) Ltd, explains what this company is all about. 

Why did you start GeoSUN Africa? We expect that the renewable energy market, solar energy in particular, will be showing quite considerable growth in South Africa over the next few years. There is thus a need for a wide range of solar-related services in the market. We at the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies found that a large portion of our consultation work revolved around the solar field, indicating the spin-out of a company. In so doing we formally secured an already existing close cooperation with a European company.

This is a company in which InnovUS has a share, as well as the owners of the international company GeoModel Solar, which is based in Slovakia? Yes, that is correct. The association and partnership with the University is important to us, especially the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies with which we will still be in close cooperation. The Slovakian company brings important solar-related services to the table. We have a lot of experience in the installation and maintenance of solar measure stations and equipment. The Slovaks are experts on solar data derived from satellite models.

To bring a solar project to a financial conclusion one needs both of these data sets. The measured solar data are accurate but usually only for a short period. The solar data derived from satellite models are less accurate but extend over a longer historic period.

There are quite a few providers of solar data derived from satellite models. We have found the models of the Slovaks to be very accurate and up to now we have been using them as our preferred provider. It thus makes sense to go into partnership with them.

What type of services will GeoSUN Africa be delivering primarily and to whom? Our services are mostly focused on solar developers of various technologies, such as CSP (solar thermal power stations), PV (photovoltaic power stations) - both large MW installations and roof installations - and CPV (concentrated photovoltaic power stations).

Our area of service is directed at Africa and the Middle East, but can be provided anywhere. Our primary focus currently is on the South African market. We are also working with new and upcoming solar markets a lot, e.g. other African countries, particularly our neighbouring countries and Northern Africa, as well as the Middle East. These countries have typical projects which include the installation and monitoring of solar measure stations, as well as solar mapping. This is exactly here where measured and satellite-derived solar data will make a good combination.

Is there a great need in the market for these services? Yes. Some of the solar power technologies are obliged to do solar measurements at their developments and prefer an independent entity like us. To participate in the government’s renewable energy programme for large solar farms, developers require quite a few studies and reports. We offer these services.

Are these services unique to the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies? No, there are other players in the market as well. But our services offer quite a few unique approaches in addition to us having more than a few years of first-hand experience of solar measurements.

What does this mean for renewable energy development, particularly solar energy, in the country? We offer supporting services to developers. We are therefore playing a role in the successful development of solar farms. Although electricity generated by solar power is currently more expensive than coal, we know that it will be different over the next few years. We would therefore like to see the construction of as many solar power plants as possible in the country.


SU share enhances credibility

Anita Nel, InnovUS’s chief executive officer:

“GeoSUN Africa is a unique company operating in the field of renewable and sustainable energy. The SU already has the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies and is proud to be able to develop the Centre’s work commercially. The fact that GeoSUN Africa originated from the work done by the Centre with its connection with the SU, enhances the credibility of the new company.

“The company is another example that the SU’s research is relevant and leads to the establishment of new companies. We invite all staff and students to make their research available commercially via InnovUS. The fact that the SU also has shares in the  spin-out company via InnovUS enhances its credibility.”

Focus on renewable energy studies creates opportunities

Prof Wikus van Niekerk, director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies:

“Renewable and sustainable energy will in future be an increasingly important source of energy and is one of the answers to South Africa’s power problems. We expect that over the next two years relatively large power stations will be constructed in South Africa, particularly solar energy systems.

“The Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies plays an important role to educate scientists and engineers in unlocking these energy sources in South Africa. Thanks to the focus on renewable and sustainable energy studies many opportunities have opened for the SU. The establishment of GeoSUN Africa is an excellent example of an opportunity to utilise existing expertise to our benefit.”


Cost-effective generator gets green light

Funding has been approved for the implementation of a slip permanent magnet generator (S-PMG) that offers a simplified but efficient wind generating system which reduces the overall cost of wind energy conversion systems to a large extent. The S-PMG application was invented at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at SU.

According to Philip Marais, part-time business developer at InnovUS, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) approved funding of approximately R12 million for one of two applications for the S-PMG technology – a 15kW wind generator for which a prototype already exists.

“We are now entering the contractual phase of the application process with TIA. The 15kW generator will be commercialised through Stellenbosch Wind Energy Technologies (SWET), a SU spin-out company that specialises in the manufacturing of small wind turbines.”

The project will be implemented by a technical team from SU with business and interim management support from InnovUS and Regal 3. The funding will cover the first three years of operation which will include further research and development, testing and certification and launching the product into the market.

The S-PMG introduces a construction which alleviates the need for heavy gearboxes and expensive power electronic converters as are common in conventional wind energy conversion systems, Johannes Potgieter, one of the S-PMG inventors, explains.

The S-PMG system utilises the specific advantages of a slip permanent magnet electrical machine and a synchronous permanent magnet electrical machine resulting in a direct drive, directly grid connected system. It is less complex and more cost-effective than other conventional systems. The generator is capable of operating as a S-PMG or as a normal synchronous generator by simply and easily removing the slip machine part.

According to Philip, the target markets for the 15kW S-PMG are off- and on-grid agricultural applications where there are high electricity demands, rural and off-grid settlements and community wind projects. If the technology is a commercial success at this level, implementation at higher power levels will also be investigated. Research and development is already underway for a 50kW    S-PMG which will be scalable to 500kW or even larger systems, he says.


InnovUS spin-out company sets its sights on America

The Sensi Mobi application developed by Diacoustic Medical Devices has been chosen from hundreds of entrants worldwide to be represented at the Connected Health Innovators Challenge, taking place in Boston, USA at the end of October this year. Diacoustic Medical Devices is a spin-out company of InnovUS, the technology transfer company of Stellenbosch University.

Sensi Mobi is the mobile follow-up to Sensi Cardiac, the groundbreaking software application developed by Diacoustic Medical Devices to accurately distinguish between pathological and physiological heart murmurs. Sensi Cardiac assists medical practitioners to cut out unnecessary and costly referrals to heart specialists in cases where heart murmurs are thought to be potentially dangerous. The Sensi Cardiac system works via an electronic stethoscope which is plugged into a tablet, PC or laptop. The Sensi Cardiac software running on the device then analyses the heart sounds by comparing them with a database of over 1 200 paediatric heart recordings, and makes a diagnosis based on the comparison. The diagnosis offered by Sensi Cardiac has been shown to yield an accuracy of over 90 percent and can analyse up to 180 heartbeats per minute.

Sensi Mobi makes this diagnostic process even more mobile, which is particularly useful for doctors working in remote areas. Sensi Mobi uses an electronic stethoscope that is plugged into the microphone socket of a smartphone (only the iPhone at present). “The smartphone then uploads the recorded heart sounds into a sound cloud where analysis and diagnosis is made in the cloud, using the Sensi Mobi algorithms, and transmitted back to the smartphone,” explains Thys Cronje, director of Diacoustic Medical Devices.

The Connected Health Innovators Challenge is a showcase for companies which offer health innovations in the mobile space. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to present Sensi Mobi at this conference and we’re hoping that by demonstrating our capabilities we will be able to obtain a distribution partner in America, to help us market and distribute Sensi Mobi there,” adds Thys. The Sensi Cardiac application was granted FDA approval (which is required to market a product in the USA) in August this year, and FDA approval for Sensi Mobi will be sought early in 2013.

It’s been an eventful year for Diacoustic Medical Devices. The company was recently nominated as a finalist in the Innovation Sector of the IDC Business Partners Awards, which took place at the end of September. In addition, Thys and a core team from Diacoustic Medical Devices recently returned from a two-week stay in China where they worked alongside the China California Heart Watch to analyse the heart recordings of about 300 children in rural areas. “We used Sensi Cardiac to test the heart recordings of children who were thought to be at high risk of having pathological heart murmurs. We were able to exclude 70% of these children from unnecessary referrals, which makes a big difference in these rural areas, where getting tested by a specialist often requires a three-hour trip in a taxi, something which most parents can’t afford,” says Thys.

It’s evident that both Sensi Cardiac and Sensi Mobi have the potential to revolutionise the manner in which paediatric heart murmurs are diagnosed.