CSIT’s PicoPUF triumphs at 2015 INVENT Awards

PicoPUF, a CSIT spinout new venture, has been awarded NISPConnect’s prestigious INVENT Award grand prize. The INVENT competition, in partnership with Bank of Ireland UK, is an opportunity for anyone with an innovative concept to be recognized as Northern Ireland’s next big thing. The competition has long been considered the foremost Night of Invention in the region.

The PicoPUF team have invented a tiny semiconductor IP core that provides strong, unique authentication for even the cheapest microchip. As well as winning the Electronics category the concept was also awarded the overall grand prize. PicoPUF was deemed by judges to have the most innovative product with the biggest global commercial potential. They faced stiff competition from 11 other finalists in categories including Agri-Food, Life and Health, and Enterprise Software. The award was presented to the trio of CSIT researchers who invented PicoPuf, Neil Hanley, Maire O’Neill, and Chongyan Gu. Their invention means that any grade of device can have the highest grade of security. They took home a prize package of £13,000, a fast-track to NISP’s Springboard programme, and a space on the NI TechMission to California in January 2016.

“There is a perfect storm happening in IT security right now.“ said PicoPUF founder Neil Hanley. “The huge number of devices on the market, combined with the low-cost nature of these devices, makes it impossible to use heavily-computationally-resourced security solutions. Lightweight security will be a game-changer and we are set to capitalize on that. This INVENT competition has been a massive step towards that goal, and we thank the Science Park for the chance to get involved. We can’t believe we won.”

PicoPUF is focused on the area of FPGA chips – used widely in aerospace and by the military – as their initial target market. They are currently raising £250k to fund staffing and development (with plans to hire additional engineers). After FPGA chips are tackled the group can look at other subsets of chips – for instance, those used in mobile phones and machine to machine authentication.

Rounding off a successful night for the Centre was Cognition Video, a processing framework that enables the effective understanding of media content using intelligent automated algorithms, which also won the Enterprise Software category. Cognition Video’s novel processing framework analysis video gathered by CCTV cameras, and uses intelligent automated algorithms to: (i) detect motion, such as a moving vehicles (ii) recognise faces (iii) identify gender, and even (iv) profile people by age.

“We are delighted to win the Enterprise Software category at the 2015 INVENT Awards against a particularly strong field. We know that Cognition Video has a market-leading solution for things like people tracking and motion detection, because we’ve tested it against competitors.” said founder Fabian Campbell-West, a Senior Engineer at CSIT. “Our real strength lies in our ability to cover everything a customer would need in video analytics. Our solution has a wide breadth of capabilities.“

At the moment, Fabian and his co-founder Bhargav Mitra are creating a roadmap and prioritizing development areas. The retail industry of the UK and Ireland is one of their first stopping off points because take-up is faster within retail as compared to dealing with councils or law enforcement agencies.