The venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, a division of the CIA, invests for the purpose of keeping the CIA and other Government Agencies ahead of the technology curve. Some of their choices are fascinating. Here are the ten of the most interesting investments they’ve made.
Location: San Francisco, California
3VR is a “video intelligence company”: it sells software that allows video to be data mined. This enables organisations to “leverage video to bolster security, identify and mitigate fraud, and better serve customers”. The organisations using 3VR include banks, retailers, governments and law enforcement agencies.
In practice the “video intelligence” they have developed allows objects such as licence plates and people to be analysed. Their current technology includes facial surveillance, people counting and queue line analysis. They have recently released a demographic analysis tool which “allows retail, banking and hospitality end-users to count their customers and identify these customers by age and gender”.
In-Q-Tel has invested in a company whose use to CIA is increasing as the technology matures. Demographic analysis allows retailers to better understand their customer base, and it’s potential to become a powerful criminal profiling tool is obvious.
Location: Seattle, Washington
In-Q-Tel doesn’t disappoint when it comes to investing in James Bond-type gadgetry. Adaptx provides software and hardware to speed up data entry. Their core product is a $299 pen that converts handwritten notes into electronic data. However, the raft of supporting software that allows a vast array of input data to be instantly uploaded to a central system shows Adapta are about more than just fancy pens.
The ability for a central command centre to receive that much data in real time is very desirable, whether that command centre belongs to emergency services dealing with an accident or the CIA conducting a clandestine mission.
Location: San Francisco, California
Investing in Basis Technology must have been a no brainer for In-Q-Tel: it’s the Holy Grail of seamless language translation, which has been a preoccupation of humans for thousands of years. The company provides technology that identifies languages, and seeks to find meaning in words it doesn’t know and can discern syntax.
A major outlay for every intelligence agency in the world is their translation departments. Adding a capable software linguistics program to their arsenal is obviously desirable. In addition to this type of analysis, Basis Technology could be of use to the CIA for more than the obvious translation applications.
The company has started to develop digital forensics tools that utilise their technology in data extraction – useful for anyone in the business of recovering data from hard disks.
Digital Solid State Propulsion
Location: Reno, Nevada
In-Q-Tel doesn’t just invest in gadgets and management tools: they also back extremely ambitious and madcap companies like Digital Solid State Propulsion: a rocket company.
Rocketry can be a surprisingly prosaic business. After a technology reaches maturity, it can be used for decades past its sell-by date. A technology that is proven and outdated is often seen as more cost-effective than developing a replacement.
Digital Solid State Propulsion provides an alternative method to the complicated process of igniting rocket fuel. They claim to have vastly improved the control of inflight combustion of fuel by developing an electronic ignition system that is now being used by missile and rocket manufacturers.
Location: Milpitas, California
In-Q-Tel hold multiple investments in cyber-security companies, including FireEye, which specialises in anti-botnet technology. Botnet attacks are a serious component of the threat package to national security posed by cyber attacks. A few months before In-Q-Tel invested in it, FireEye was part of an investigation into and successful attack on the Szribi botnet which was at one time responsible for half the the internet’s spam.
FireEye is another example of an In-Q-Tel investment in a company that both makes everyday life better for everyone and promotes technology vital to national security.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Huddle is a cloud collaboration and content management software company that has become the go-to online collaboration tool for the public sector. They are an example of In-Q-Tel investing in a company with a product that it knows other US government departments need.
Following the investment, Huddle started developing a version of its platform for two federal US government organisations, the Department of Homeland Security‘s Science and Technology Directorate and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Location: Mountain View, California
Infinite Z is as close to real life sci-fi fantasy as one can get. The company’s software allows for 3D interaction with holographic-like displays. Users of Infinite Z’s zSpace product wear special eyewear that conjures a 3D world which can be manipulated – Iron Man style – with a stylus.
The applications for an immersive and interactive 3D environment are limitless. One imagines the venture capitalists at In-Q-Tel had visions of a future comic-book type weapon when the Infinite investment was pitched to them.
Location: Hunt Valley, Maryland
Oculis Labs is a company that gives you igneous protection at a computer screen: they protect you from over-the-shoulder snoopers. The technology uses eye tracking to work out which words the user is reading. The products provided by Oculis Labs sound barely believable: they can encrypt the screen when you look away, warn you of eavesdroppers and can even encrypt words not being read by the user.
Oculis Labs provide a product you don’t realise you need until you discover it exists.
Location: San Mateo, California
Sonitus Medical manufacture a product called SoundBite, a bone conduction prosthetic hearing device. In essence it is a hearing aid type system that utilises an in-mouth hearing device. Sonus medical plan to use their technology for future treatments of hearing disorders such as mixed hearing loss and tinnitus.
Of course In-Q-Tel might see other future uses for a hidden in-mouth communication platform.
Location: Lincoln, Massachusetts
Ever fancied x-ray vision à la Superman? Walleye Technologies are working on it. They manufacture “advanced microwave imaging technology for portable applications”. Their “Model 24S Surface Penetrating Imager” can “see” through solid objects.
It’s all your teenage international man of mystery fantasies rolled into one.