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At DEMO, Glitches, Frayed Nerves, And A Sucking Sound

Seventy-seven companies took the stage at last week's Demo conference in hopes of impressing the world with their innovative products. They got six minutes to do it, at a cost of $3,000 per minute. Not everyone pulled it off flawlessly.
Seventy-seven companies took the stage at last week's Demo conference in hopes of impressing the world with their innovative products. They got six minutes to do it, at a cost of $3,000 per minute. Not everyone pulled it off flawlessly.Live technology demonstrations are notoriously unpredictable. There can be software glitches, faulty network connections, delays in launching an application, and Demo had its share of hold-your-breath moments. "The relief is amazing," Demo producer Chris Shipley observed as presenters hurried past her after their time in the spotlight.

One glitch was suffered by STEP Labs, which went to elaborate lengths to demonstrate how its in-car phone technology, called STEPware Auto, separates the sound of voice from ambient noise. Unfortunately, the audio faltered during live playback. "I don't know what happened to our connection," said company president Michael Hickerson.

Toktumi was the next with egg on its innovation. As Ben La Marca fumbled to get the company's small business phone service to work, co-founder and CEO Peter Sisson moved in. "Let me walk over and help Ben," he said. "It looks like we're experiencing some technical difficulties." (You won't see that exchange on Toktumi's video replay. It appears to have been edited out.)

And so it went. "Unfortunately, the application doesn't want to cooperate," said Zodigo CEO Matt Johnston when his turn came. (Zodigo's glitch also appears to have been edited out. No evidence of it on the video replay.) Another presenter had a case of shaky hands. "If you can't tell, I'm really nervous," he said. Added yet another, "This demo isn't idiot proof. I apologize."

Several companies brought props onto the stage. Storage-as-a-service provider Nirvanix smashed a storage appliance to bits with a sledgehammer. One presenter covered himself with sticky notes, while another brought a boomerang along. iVideosongs one-upped everyone by surprising the crowd with singer-songwriter John Oates of Hall & Oates fame.

The most unexpected technology on display came during a panel discussion as professor Steven Barlow, director of the University of Kansas' Communication Neuroscience Lab, demonstrated a mechanical nipple that teaches premature babies how to feed themselves. The device, Barlow said, teaches premies how to get from "nonfunctional suck" to "functional suck," and he provided charts and a photo of it in action. The device sucked, or at least helped infants do so -- in this case, thankfully.

Note: This story was updated Feb. 7, 2008.

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