Company believes its has its fingers on a technological game-changer


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By touching an icon on a 55-inch screen displaying a picture of a fractured skull, Kore Image Technologies partner Evan Sands carefully dissolved layers of bone until all that was left in the image were muscles, gaping eyeballs and jagged fracture lines on an exposed brain.

With another swipe, lines appeared, separating the brain lobe by lobe.

By the third swipe, any attorney or medical professional could easily show laymen the extent of damage to the brain and what portions had been impacted.

The software demonstrated on Kore's Interactive Mobile Display System was a variation of a program originally designed for a Chicago attorney hoping to add a visual aid to his arguments, but Mr. Sands said hospitals, schools and other educational organizations could find practical uses for the technology, too.

If not, he said, Kore can always build software or hardware for the interactive screens that suits their individual needs.

Then he customized that onscreen image to suit his own comfort level.

"Let me fade those eyeballs down a bit," he said. "They're pretty creepy."

As touchscreen interfaces continue to evolve, from smartphones and computer monitors to high-tech refrigerators and soda machines, Evan, 29, and his father, Kore founder Robert Sands, have positioned their small, Manchester-based company to be a leader in deploying the technology in larger formats.

They think their product is distinctive, especially since a researcher the company hired to do a competitive analysis for similar products has yet to see anything like the Interactive Mobile Display System.

Robert Sands, a 68-year-old artist and South Hills native, said he worked in "every major art studio or agency" in Pittsburgh before getting into industrial theater -- the business of designing spaces and PowerPoint presentations for companies seeking to make the most of a single event.

Once the ubiquity of PowerPoint dulled its impact on presentations, he came up with the idea that large format touchscreen technology could be the game-changer for companies who need to attract and keep attention in today's economy. In 2010, with an initial investment of $250,000, he established Kore with that goal in mind.

"Everybody was hot on the iPads and iPhones, and touching stuff had become like a teacher for us," he said.

"I wanted to see it on a larger scale, so more people could get the experience of touching stuff or seeing somebody present by touching things, rather than to have the pickle switch and the idiot light and the linear, forward, PowerPoint kind of thing."

After several attempts to design touch-interface software that would be compatible with all machines, the company created hardware of its own that allows users to plug in a USB port to install presentations.

In addition to the Interactive Mobile Display Systems, the five-employee company also markets large-format touchscreens, which are interactive floor projection systems where images change with a user's every step; informational kiosks and self-service terminals; interactive tables and presentations customized according to a client's wishes.

Kore also offers thru-glass window technology that uses an interactive film to allow people passing a storefront window to flip through virtual catalogs or type in contact information.

The Interactive Mobile Display System retails for around $6,000 for a 32-inch screen, software and a case to carry the display when it's separated into portable components. Prices for customized software and hardware depend upon a client's needs and requests.

Besides being used by clients at trade shows across the country, Kore products can be seen at Downtown-based Henderson Brothers Insurance Co., which keeps one of the mobile display systems in its central lobby and uses one in its conference room for brainstorming sessions. Students in Pittsburgh Technical Institute's advanced multimedia technologies class use the system to learn the ins and outs of designing interactive programs.

During a demonstration to faculty at PTI's Oakmont campus last week, multimedia technologies program director Joshua Sager showed off nine different applications that students had designed for the unit, ranging from a simple program that multiplied colored dots upon touch, to a dual-touch art program where one finger is used to draw while the other can simultaneously use a color spectrum bar to change the drawing.

Mr. Sager said the experience has led to students landing coveted internships with companies such as city advertising agencies Brunner and Marc USA, but has also encouraged them to brainstorm and work through different problems in the course on their own.

"All of this happened because we threw out the mouse and embraced interactive technology," Mr. Sager said.

If all goes according to Evan Sands' projections, the world will fully embrace large-format interactive technology within the next five years.

It could happen even sooner if Pittsburgh officials get on board with an idea to use the touch interface and the company's advanced navigation, or "way-finding," system.

By using LED panels on bus shelter windows as the interface to find schedules, city maps, stores, events and more, Evan Sands said the city could become a model for modernization and practical use of high technology.

He said the company has discussed the idea with the Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, but no final decisions have been made. Although he could not pinpoint an exact price tag for the idea, he said potential advertising revenue from a system like this "could pay for the price of hardware, software, design and then some."

Whether the powers that be buy into the idea or not, Robert Sands said he and the company will be around for the long haul to pitch another.

"A lot of people ask why I'm not retired yet, and I say artists never go on vacation," he said.

businessnews

Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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