By Greg Russell
The device is small—about the size of a penny—but can deliver millions of dollars
in returns and provide a great benefit to law enforcement agencies and to consumers
who have had items stolen. And thanks to a newly established Fellows program at the
University of Memphis, that device, the AutoWitness tracking sensor created by U of
M professor Santosh Kumar, may see the light of day.
Dr. Kumar and three other University faculty members are the beneficiaries of the
newly established First Tennessee Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fellows program.
It is designed to deliver critical funds to four U of M researchers who are entrepreneurial
and engaged in promising research, allowing them to advance their projects into the
“This program will be an exciting new addition to our efforts to support innovation
and entrepreneurship, while contributing to economic growth and community development,”
said Julie Johnson, U of M vice president for Advancement and executive director of
the University of Memphis Foundation.
Each Fellow will receive a monetary package of $22,500, which includes a $5,000 faculty
stipend, a $2,500 student research stipend, $5,000 in support for business consultants
and $10,000 to support costs associated with creating a proof of concept or prototype.
Fellows are designated for a year and receive their stipend upon delivery of a commercialization
or business plan to the University’s director of Technology Transfer.
The FedEx Institue of Technology’s Office of Technology Transfer will administer and
monitor program activities, identifying mentors to provide advice and technical assistance
to the Fellows.
U of M administrators sought such a program to fill a gap in funding for activities
that move research beyond the lab and into the commercial area. It will aid in supporting
the transition from basic and applied research to “market-ready.”
The First Tennessee Foundation is funding the initiative.
Besides Kumar, Drs. Robert Kozma, Gary Emmert and Eugene Pinkhassik have been selected
for the first year of the Fellows program.
Kumar’s device not only detects thefts of items, it has a tracking component that
allows police to follow the path of a stolen item. “The goal is actually to lead to
the arrest of the suspect,” Kumar said.
Funds from the Fellows program will allow Kumar’s group to purchase additional hardware
to enhance the product and provide for a commercialization plan for its rapid adoption
by police, consumers and businesses.
Kozma, a mathematics professor, has developed an algorithm that will allow optimization
of large complex systems as well as provide the capability to generate learning-based
predictive models. The potential for this technology to improve efficiency and predictive
capability is enormous: electric power distribution, corporate supply chains, military
asset staging and deployment are a few of the potential applications for this technology.
The Fellows program funding will allow him and the FedEx Institute to hire a world-class
expert in the business of complex systems optimization with the goal of analyzing
the market potential and proposing an initial business model.
Emmert, associate professor of chemistry, has established one of the leading research laboratories dedicated to monitoring the
quality of drinking water, a local and global issue. He has three patents pending
and two invention disclosures in the process of patent application.
Pinkhassik is also an associate professor of chemistry. His research group has invented a novel method to encapsulate catalysts, which will significantly
reduce the cost of manufacture for pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals. The encapsulated
catalysts will also ease the environmental burden caused by heavy metal components
of many modern catalysts by allowing the manufacturer to recover a greater portion
of the catalysts for re-use.