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Innovation Reigns at Wireless Expo

This year’s Unwired Innovation Expo (UIE) in Clovis, New Mexico was simply amazing. By now, we’re all a bit desensitized to the wonder of wireless technology, and easily forget that under the hood of our WLAN environments lives some impressive core technology. It takes an event like the UIE to really remind us of just how empowering the wireless industry is to innovative products, and the minor miracles that are possible when our wireless engine is running right. Here’s a look at my favorites from the Expo.

I wasn’t the only wireless network manager to be absolutely floored by the exhibit for Pickpocket. Touted as “an alternative funding source that leverages your existing wireless infrastructure”, Pickpocket has got to be one of the more daring uses of WLAN technology since 802.11 was ratified. Taking its place alongside security and performance overlays that make use of the distributed nature of wireless access points, Pickpocket is simple (but powerful) revenue-collection code that installs on most leading wireless hardware, and channels what it hears back to the Plunder server, which has direct hooks into the organizational financial system. Pickpocket’s results are the stuff of legend.

As users move about the Pickpocket-enabled environment, the system randomly excites the magnetic stripe on credit cards carried by those within cell range. As numbers are aggregated in the Plunder server (which comes in appliance or virtual options), organizational accounts are adjusted accordingly in near real-time, as both CapEx and OpEx become issues that you no longer worry about. During the demo at UEI, my own MasterCard was hit up for over $300, and I didn’t know it until after I got home. This is powerful magic.

Also intriguing was startup WirelessLite’s line of new combination solar-powered yard lights and mesh Wi-Fi network hardware. The premise is elegant, and those milling about WirelessLite’s booth on a warm Clovis day appreciated the scenario described by company president Howard Hamilton. With the pool of the hotel visible beyond the glass walls of the convention center, Hamilton showed how the lights not only mark the path to your backyard Jacuzzi or pool, but also mesh the wireless network from your home to faraway points not reachable by the typical consumer-grade wireless router. Hamilton conceded that each node does require a sizable storage battery, but WirelessLite has a variety of enclosures realistically shaped like rocks, cacti, and even a decorative antique milk can for hiding the more pedestrian components of the system. Slick.

Finally, I have to admit to already getting on the waiting list for the newly introduced and wildly popular No Wire Nomad wireless photographic system. The basic idea capitalizes on the results of the recent South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas where homeless individuals were hired as walking 4G hotspots. Though the Austin experiment as conducted was arguably in bad taste, it did prove the viability of attachable infrastructure. To that end, No Wire Nomad not only attaches mobile hotspots to animals like livestock and hunting dogs, but it also allows for remote control of high-resolution camera pods mounted on the animals. Security, reconnaissance, and recreational opportunities abound, and Nomad was easily the hit of the Expo.

I know that for me, getting back from UIE and returning to the day job was a bit of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work. But when you get out there and see innovation--real, cutting-edge wireless-enabled innovation--it changes you a little bit. Hats off to everyone at UIE for showing us in the wireless business the edgier side of our world.