Tech Transfer - University of Michigan

Leading Innovation

Quantum Signal

In the late 1980s, signal processing specialist and UM Engineering Professor William J. Williams received an unusual request from the Office of Naval Research.

Would he be willing to work with biologists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to create a system for identifying the voice patterns of individual sperm whales? Intrigued, Dr. Williams accepted the challenge and created a successful software program. It was some time later that he learned of the real application for the technology: monitoring Soviet submarines.

According to Williams' former student, Dr. Mitchell Rohde, that story reflects the core mission of Quantum Signal, a company founded by Williams and Rohde. "Our goal is to take technology out of the ivory tower and bring it into the mainstream," he says. "We do that through consulting and education as well as through the development of core tools and technologies. The beauty of signal processing is that the systems we develop are cross-functional and can be used to solve a huge array of problems." As for example, he notes that an algorithm developed by Quantum Signal for identifying particular words in multiple-format documents is being adapted for use in advanced security systems based on face recognition.

Williams and Rohde are the first to admit that, in the past, relatively few industries realized the potential of signal processing, or understood how the math-based analysis of signals and sensor data could solve their problems. But that's changing quickly. In the past three years, Quantum Signal has worked with clients in manufacturing, health care, power generation, automotive design, and national security. Currently, their superb track record in face recognition, speaker verification and similar biometrics technologies is generating favorable interest in industry and at the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), which is reviewing one of their proposals.

"UM Tech Transfer has been a very good partner for us," says Williams. "They encouraged us to create a start-up company. They understand the needs of a small business. They're accommodating about technology licenses." He pauses for a second, then adds, "And they've always seemed genuinely interested in helping us succeed."

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