Prof. Ehud Shapiro is riding a wave of success. The 41-year-old Weizmann Institute academic has sailed into the business world, thanks to an innovative interactive computer program that has captured the excitement of the on-line universe.
Israel-born Shapiro, now on leave of absence from the Institute's Applied Mathematics and Computer Science Department, has made a hit with his Virtual Places software, which allows interaction on the World Wide Web part of the Internet. The program enables users to meet at any Web site, explore different sites together and discuss their findings, via computer.
At the Institute, Shapiro's major focus was programming languages and, particularly, logic programming, and he spent a decade participating in Japan's Fifth Generation Project to advance artificial intelligence. Virtual Places arose from that research.
Shapiro was quick to realize the potential of the Internet, the global computer network that has mushroomed exponentially this decade. In late 1993, he took official leave and obtained a license from Yeda Research & Development Co. -- which is responsible for the commercialization of Weizmann Institute research -- to set up a company, Ubique. In March last year, he launched Virtual Places at a computer trade fair. America Online, the giant computer services company, was impressed and offered to buy Ubique. Shapiro sold the company in September 1995, and now serves as Ubique's president, reporting to America Online executives. Ubique's Vice President, Avner Shafrir, and the development staff remain in Rehovot.
In April this year, America Online officially launched Virtual Places for open testing on the Web.