The lure of the e-life

March 31, 2000

"All my life I had been a professor," says Ramish Jain, "and this is a different life. But I was so excited about it, I knew it was going to happen."

About three years ago, Jain, chief executive officer of Praja.com, began scaling back his teaching load at the University of California at San Diego. Last May, he took early retirement from his post as a professor of electrical and computer engineer. "Do I miss anything?" he asks. "I miss some of the intellectual discussion, the intellectual curiosity that I used to participate in."

Praja is the third of three companies that Jain, 50, founded in the course of his academic career, which began in India in 1972. The first has been sold; the second, Virage. com, is expected to go public this year. If it does, Jain expects to become a wealthy man, though "the maximum that will happen is that my wife will go and buy an expensive house".

Virage's technology breaks traditional video into logged segments that can be searched by scene changes, spoken words and faces of recognised speakers. Reuters television now airs Virage-powered news feeds.

Jain is concentrating his expertise in image retrieval and multimedia databases on Praja, for which he raised $20 million and which employs about 45 people.

Praja promises a new approach to "broadcasting" public or private events over the web. Football games, concerts, conferences or weddings would be covered by a multitude of web cams - "50 cameras is not an inconceivable number for a wedding, because the cameras are so inexpensive," Jain says.

Users would act as their own producers, picking the highlights from events they are interested in, and receiving images and data over the internet. "You could be anywhere in the world, and you could specify you only want to see the bride or the bridegroom, and the software will decide which particular camera is best," Jain says.

Praja has been waiting for the introduction of broadbrand connections that allow rapid data transmission to the home or office. In the meantime, Jain fields calls from faculty members interested in their own start-up ventures.

"Not everybody is bold enough to leave their job to go and do this," he says. "But there are more and more people thinking about it."

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