Renaissance and Rock
Copyright © 1994 Georgia Tech Alumni Association
This Dog Will Hunt
Algorithm's Internet "WatchDog" is only one of many ventures for the growing company.
When Fortune Magazine went hunting for this year's group of "very cool" companies, it caught scent of Algorithm, Incorporated, because of the company's attempt to take a byte out of [obscene material] on the Internet. And while Fortune saw an analogy to George Orwell's "Big Brother" in Internet WatchDog® a monitoring program adopted as a productivity tool by at least 25 Fortune 500 companies Algorithm founder Christopher D. Watkins says his creation was intended as anything but sinister.
"The whole point of Internet WatchDog® was to take power out of our hands and put it in parents' hands, because we're in no position to force our value systems on others," says Watkins, EE '89, president and CEO of Algorithm. Rather than attempting to block access to offensive World-Wide Web sites, which is impractical considering the Web's proliferation, Internet WatchDog® monitors computer use and takes snapshots of the screen. These snapshots are collected on a grid that parents can later review to determine what their children are looking at in much the same way that a telephone customer reviews monthly bills to see who their children are calling. Internet WatchDog® runs invisibly in the background, and it is password protected so tampering can be detected. Several companies discovered Internet WatchDog® and put it to use monitoring their employees' "Web surfing" habits.
Venturer and Other Ventures
Internet Watchdog® isn't the only thing Algorithm is doing that's "very cool":
Venturer S2 Interactive®
Looking like a bright yellow mini-van sans the wheels, Thomson Entertainment's Venturer S2® closes to seal in two riders, then treats them to a videodisk and motion-platform simulation that realistically mimics a roller-coaster ride. Algorithm is taking that concept a step further with Venturer S2 Interactive®, which uses the video and aircraft-simulator motion base to replicate air combat or any other situation. Unlike its predecessor, the interactive version utilizes a Pentium-based PC like those found on desktops everywhere, instead of a high-end workstation, dramatically cutting production and consumer costs.
Being developed for Immersive Technologies, Kimera® is a periscope-like device that puts the user in a realistic three-dimensional environment similar to that created by virtual-reality helmets. But it doesn't require a full-time attendant. Mounted on gimbals with counterweights to keep it balanced, Kimera® uses two miniature video monitors, one for each eye, to accurately replicate three-dimensional vision. Players use twin handles with triggers to navigate the platform's virtual world, and body motion is translated by two Pentium computers into movement within the digital environment. The Immerse-O-Scope® boom's video inputs are based on actual human sensory perception, taken from biomechanical data. The gaming environment can be upgraded on a regular basis, increasing the machine's consumer appeal.
Compu-Ceph®, Present It!® and Create It!®
These three Windows-based software programs are used by orthodontists and oral surgeons to give patients a realistic view of the results of pending treatment or surgery. Compu-Ceph® allows orthodontists to meld X-rays and photos to project the results of treatment, as well as archive records in images. Present It!® and Create It!® serve similar functions, providing a graphical interface for patients in which they can easily assimilate complex procedures.
Copyright © 1996 Georgia Tech Alumni Association
July 8, 1996
HIP, HOT, 'N' HAPPENING
Fortune Visits Twenty-Five Very Cool Companies
In the first three years of putting together this act, we identified Avid Technologies, Cisco Systems, and Netscape as cool companies. We also gave the nod to Thinking Machines, a maker of supercomputers that then went into Chapter 11 for a while. That's okay - their stuff was indubitably cool at the time.
The thing about coolness is that it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. For example: Shuffling through your briefcase before an audience with your biggest customer, you realize that you've forgotten a crucial file. You pull out a cellular phone with a tiny pop-up window and dial in to your office computer network. Floating before your eyes is a full-screen image of your PC display. But the perfect, crisp picture isn't really in the tiny window. It's being painted by a laser directly on your retina.
Or home alone after a rat-race day, you log on to a video chat room. The person you're talking to happens to be sitting at a table with an orange on it. You insert your fingers into stimulative thimbles connected to your computer, and suddenly you think you can manipulate all the objects on the screen. Every stipple on that orange skin is yours.
Cool? Absolutely. Real - as in, will Microvision's eye painter or SensAble Technology's finger feelers ever make a dime? Guessing yea or nay is all the sport. Investors will have plenty of opportunity to bet, as CheckFree, Cascade Communications, CNET, and dozens of others angle for revenues by crafting Internet products for business types.
Don't clink glasses about the electronic liberation of the individual just yet. Algorithm sells software that lets your boss check which Web pages you download when you use your PC. Like a Venus flytrap, scary things can be cool too.
Interactive 3-D Graphics Software
Big Brother may not be a sinister old megalomaniac hiding behind a wall of monitors after all. He may just be a bunch of well-meaning nerds listening to rock music.
Last January, Algorithm released the Internet WatchDog®, which enables a second party - like your boss - to keep a log of every program running on your computer. Originally conceived as a device to help parents know if their kids were sneaking glances at pornography on the Internet, WatchDog® has become a tool for businesses. According to Charles River Media in Rockland, Massachusetts, which markets the product, at least 25 Fortune 500 companies use WatchDog to keep an eye on what their workers are doing on their PCs.
WatchDog's a strange product to come from Algorithm, whose founder and CEO, Chris Watkins, defines his vision as trying to foster a "nerd farm where the best minds freely create [technology] to benefit society."
Besides WatchDog, the Algorithm homestead has created an odd mix of 3-D graphics software. One program, called Compu-Ceph®, allows orthodontists to meld photos and X-rays to give patients a visual preview of the expected results of dental work. The company also developed an immersive arcade system, called Venturer S2®. In one Venturer program, players sit in a fully enclosed capsule and get treated to a simulated ride on a roller coaster. It's good stuff, though this reporter almost got motion sick.
Watkins hopes his software can be applied outside the game world - for instance, in simulation training for the military. But even if his plans succeed, he has no desire to take his beloved "N-farm" public. Instead he plans to grow autonomous "bubbles," like a business-monitoring group and a motion-based trainer division, that could eventually be spun off.
Copyright © 1996 Fortune Magazine