The best, and worst, of Demo Fall 2008

72 companies showed their stuff, with many intriguing options for businesses and consumers. But a few stood out far above the rest

It isn't something you'll see on a server rack, but a product from a fabless silicon design outfit could help you cut down on air conditioning costs at work or home and help save energy. What's more, Microstaq's Silicon Expansion Valve (SEV) illustrates innovative thinking, and after all, isn't that what the Demo show is all about?

The valve on a chip is one of the relatively few products that got my attention at this fall's innovation showcase. Some of my favorites, like a SAN on a card from Fusion-io, fit squarely in the wheelhouse of IT pros. Others, like the notepad-sized e-reader from Plastic Logic and a music mashup service that lets composers collaborate over the Web, are simply cool.

Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order), plus one that was simply the worst demo I've seen in a long time, not just at this edition of the Demo show.

Take the heat out of air conditioning bills

Consider the compressor, the really key part of any air conditioning system and the part that consumes most of the electricity needed by the system. In a conventional air conditioning unit, a valve regulates the flow of coolant into an evaporator. Pumping just the right amount of fluid is the key to efficient operation of the compressor. But conventional valves, says Microstaq co-founder Steven Booth, don't do the job very well, because they only check the pressure and temperature of the coolant outside the evaporator. Changes that occur inside are not noted.

Enter Microstaq's SEV, a micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) device that acts as a controller for the valve. The chip is wired to sensors just beyond the compressor, collecting real-time data on temperature and pressure. More accurate data means that the valve will send the optimal amount of fluid into the evaporator, which in turns optimizes the work of the compressor. Bottom line: An energy savings of 20 to 30 percent, the company claims -- or about 5 percent of global energy consumption if all air conditioners used the technology. I guess you'd have to say that's pretty cool.

New e-reader challenges Kindle

I'm no fan of the Amazon.com Kindle, but that doesn't mean I'd give a thumbs down to any electronic reader. Indeed, a forthcoming, as-yet-unnamed device from Plastic Logic could well be one I'd pack in my bag.

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Bill Snyder

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