Chattanooga unleashes the power of gigabit computing at GigTank demo day

Over a dozen teams of entrepreneurs and students worked feverishly all summer in Chattanooga, Tenn.’s GigTank startup accelerator to develop gigabit apps that showcase the power and practical value of the country’s largest gigabit network. On Thursday, more than 500 techies, financiers and business mavens gathered to see the fruits of this year’s “summer camp for geeks.”

The premise was simple. Recruit nationally and internationally to select eight two-to-four-person teams of entrepreneurs and 11 students who formed their own teams. Offer $150,000 in cash prizes as the reward. Turn the teams loose in two- and three-month pressure cookers of accelerated application development.

In a process one participant described as a cross between Survivor and American Idol, we saw two primary outcomes. GigTank unleashed great creativity tempered by a real-world gigabit environment, and it’s helping people understand that apps don’t have to require a gig to benefit from a gig network.

What do gig apps look like anyway?

Nicole Newman (l) and Cintia Kotsubo show off their award for Best Student Team. They also won $50,000.

The student team of Nicole Newman and Cintia Kotsubo designed Babel Sushi, a sophisticated translation application. Users speak into a computer or smartphone (think: Scotty of Star Trek) and Babel Sushi instantly translates and broadcasts their words in the language of the country they’re visiting. The application simultaneously does word-for-word translation, includes slang and idioms, and adapts for the dialect of the region where speakers are located. Crowdsourcing features keeps the application current. Babel Sushi was the winning Demo Day student team.

Toni Gamayell, Travis Staton, and TJ Weigel of Banyan are the big winners for Best Entrepreneur Team.

Banyan was one of the entrepreneur teams and eventual winner in this category by resolving a basic but expensive problem. At the moment, it is faster for a university researcher in California generating a terabyte of data to fly to London to deliver it to a professor in person than transferring it over the Internet. Banyan’s application enables users to send and share terabytes of data in minutes, quickly track file authorship, merge and collaborate on research and build research teams. Their target market believes the gig network is key to the app’s value.

Entrepreneur team Iron Gaming took home a bonus prize thanks to Warner Brothers. They received the $10,000 Warner Brothers Digital Media Award for their social gaming model, which will create a new gaming experience through live competitive events and interactive streaming content.

Anthony Broussard (l) and Asher Pembroke let off some steam after putting finishing touches on their Ariagora music marketplace.

Entrepreneur team Ariagora flips the script on Kickstarter to create a marketplace for music that turns would-be donors into investors. Friends and supporters use Ariagora to buy shares in a band’s project. Investors can let their money “ride” and earn money as the band’s music becomes more popular, or trade shares with others on the marketplace. Investors also become a word-of-mouth marketing force. Record labels can mitigate some of their risks when supporters’ investments reduce the amount labels need to put into the band, plus the word of mouth extends the label’s marketing efforts.

A student team of Marcellin Nshimiyimana and Robert Derveloy developed a facial recognition app for stores and shoppers that photographs customers’ faces, processes the images, pulls data immediately from shoppers’ previous transactions, and presents this data to the staff. The app also pushes special offers and promotions to shoppers’ mobile devices. Focus group participants liked the technology’s convenience and opt in/out ability, as well as its ability to deliver tailored coupons and advertisements automatically at the point-of-sale before the purchase.

Anthony Gulielmo of Vigia going through a final run of his presentation before the big gig day.

Entrepreneurs at Vigia produced video-focused mobile apps for public safety professionals and dispatchers, enhancing emergency services for college campuses and surrounding areas. Their apps drive down response times, and also give responders an extra set of “eyes” at the scene so they can address emergency calls more effectively by knowing more before going into dangerous situations. (Read more)

Watching these presentations reinforces the belief that it’s hard to find something truly new because so many core technologies have already been invented. GigTank’s value comes from creative minds viewing the palette of available technologies and using a gigabit brush to paint forward-looking solutions to challenges, or opportunities for people to do important tasks better and faster.

Maybe one person doesn’t need a gig, but…

Besides unleashing creative minds, GigTank opens (hopefully) doubting minds. Community broadband supporters often hear “who needs a gig?” and “no one needs a gig!” Two moments in Chattanooga last week brought clarity to why these attacks are shortsighted. A slide in the presentation for the facial recognition app pointed out that having a gig network enables it to scan, photograph and process data for 400 people simultaneously and produce 4,000 photos in a second -– the time it takes to blink.

Dr. Jim Busch, a local radiologist, spoke at a press meeting about how Chattanooga’s gig network helps his medical practice grow. The network enables the radiologists and medical facilities to save 40 hours per radiologist, which represents a sizable monetary savings. Dr. Busch also stated that it is not uncommon for more than 10 radiologists to be sending files simultaneously that are 80 megabits to 100 megabits each.

Individuals rarely need a gig. But with the exception of Banyan’s target users, who move terabytes of data at a time, GigTank teams benefit from a gig because it empowers them to serve hundreds, even thousands, of users simultaneously without worrying about limitations in network capacity. As Dr. Busch stated, many applications move small amounts of data for every transaction, but may generate thousands of transactions every minute. Or there are applications that only do a few transactions a day, but each transaction moves mountains of data, so you don’t need many users to max out the network.

Experiencing Demo Day presentations reinforced this main message: a gigabit is not about killer apps, it’s about applying existing technology in powerful new ways that improve individuals’ lives and organizations’ operations. Their collectively use of the network is what pushes a gig to the max.

Craig Settles is a consultant who helps organizations develop broadband strategies, host of radio talk show Gigabit Nation and a broadband industry analyst. Follow him on Twitter (@cjsettles) or via his blog.