Inventing Millionaires

Silicon Alley Duo Turn Scientists Into Fat Cats

Smart Shirt inventor Sundaresan Jayaraman, a professor of textile engineering at Georgia Tech, was only too glad to give the big boys a pass. They demanded too much and gave the impression his work would disappear into a filing cabinet crammed with other projects. Seed-One won him over because of "their commitment and dedication to sticking with the idea, not just making a fast buck," he says.

Wolf describes the Smart Shirt as a "naked, plug-and-play motherboard" that could usher in pervasive computing. Your shirt could receive e-mail that, depending on advances in fiber optics, might eventually be displayed by a screen in the fabric itself. Meanwhile, Dr. Jayaraman and Wolf say, screens could plug into a button on your sleeve. Or you might simply be able to walk up to a screen, maybe one built into a Coke machine or gas pump, and your shirt would tell it to display your e-mail.

Jayaraman prefers to focus on the humanitarian benefits the Smart Shirt could bring. Sudden infant death syndrome might be prevented with something as simple as an alert sounded by a baby-sized Smart Shirt, he claims. Children with hyperactive attention deficit disorder might be better dosed with medication once their behavior is precisely charted with Smart Shirt data. People recovering from outpatient surgery might feel more secure knowing that doctors could watch over them even after they leave the clinic, and the elderly might lead more independent lives with a wireless safety net.

Prowling Wolf: Seed-One CEO Jeff Wolf searches the world for "Big Bang" ideas.
photo: Michael Schmelling
Prowling Wolf: Seed-One CEO Jeff Wolf searches the world for "Big Bang" ideas.

Other sensors could perform specialized tasks, Jayaraman says, like reporting the location of bullet wounds in soldiers and cops, and monitoring carbon monoxide levels as firefighters enter burning buildings. Jayaraman expects that thousands, if not millions, of people will feed physiological data through Smart Shirts and other wireless sensors. When these devices get advanced enough, scientists might assemble a database to rival the blueprints uncovered by the Human Genome Project, he says.

A sense of mission seems to have soaked through the Seed-One culture. "I feel like there's a halo about the whole thing," Bush says.

That expression of inspiration and awe could as easily have come from Wolf, who says discussions with his rabbi/lawyer, and the natural order revealed by the science in which he's immersed, have stirred him to delve beyond his largely secular Jewish upbringing into matters of the divine. And Dr. Young, who followed a higher calling after retiring from the medical profession, donates his board fees and stock to the Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where he serves as senior vice president. He is also the pastor of adult ministries at D.C.'s Fourth Presbyterian Church. "All my life experiences were preparing me for my current roles," he says.

Jeff Himawan, though, remains resolutely practical. He yearns for his dream "killer application": teleportation. "That would be the ultimate in takeout," he says. "It would put out of business."

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