Business Vision

New compression method expands 3-D applications; Alliances accelerate; Technology trends; Contracts committed; Management moves; Market vision.

Sep 1st, 2000
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George Kotelly, Editor in Chief
georgek@pennwell.com

New compression method expands 3-D applications

Computer scientists from Bell Labs, the research and development facility of Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill. NJ; www.bell-labs.com and www.lucent.com, respectively), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech; Pasadena, CA; www.caltech.edu) have developed a breakthrough digital-geometry compression algorithm that enables the transmission of 3-D data on the Internet as well as data processing on personal computers. In this approach, the geometric representations of objects deal with the detailed size and shape information of 3-D virtual objects that can be displayed, measured, and manipulated. Digital geometric data are typically acquired by 3-D laser scanning techniques that represent objects using dense meshes of millions to billions of imaging triangles.

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In data compression, the goal is to use as few bits as possible to store and transmit large, complex 3-D data sets, which cannot be processed efficiently using the established techniques for handling audio, image, and video applications. Compression efficiency means using fewer bits for data storage and transmission or obtaining higher quality using the same bit budget. A data-compression breakthrough would impact all 3-D-based types of imaging applications in medicine, manufacturing, education, and entertainment.

The researchers, headed by Wim Sweldens of the Bell Labs Mathematical Sciences Research Center and Peter Schroeder of the Caltech computer science department, say that their technique for geometry compression is 12 times more efficient than the MPEG4 standard method and six times more efficient than the best previously published method. This new technique could solve several geometry-processing-technology problems, ranging from data acquisition by 3-D scanning to data storage, transmission, editing, and reproduction.

A major aspect of digital geometry compression uses wavelet transformation, which is complementary to the established Fourier-transform method for processing signals and analyzing physical data. "Geometry is poised to become the fourth wave of digital multimedia communication," says Sweldens. "The first three waves—sound in the 1970s, images in the 1980s, and video in the 1990s—were enabled by signal processing based on Fourier transforms. But this kind of signal processing cannot handle geometry. Wavelets can," he adds.

One of Sweldens' earlier developments was called "lifting." It was an efficient way to generate wavelets without Fourier transforms. It was recently incorporated into the JPEG 2000 standard for image compression.

Explains Sweldens, "Manufacturing companies that can justify a huge investment in systems for 3-D scanning and digital geometry processing can use geometric representations when they put out requests for parts, use geometry to guide fabrication equipment, and compare scans of newly made parts to the original designs. Now, if you drastically reduce the costs of this technology while improving the quality of applications, geometry processing is likely to be used in more areas of the manufacturer's enterprise. Also, the technology becomes something that small manufacturers can use."

Improvements in digital geometry compression are measured in terms of the number of bits per vertex needed to describe a mesh of triangles within a given margin of error. Application developers generally trade off bits or bandwidth for quality in 3-D imaging. Tested against available compression methods, the digital-geometry-compression approach proved superior in generating high-quality reproductions with fewer bits.

The researchers' latest breakthrough in compression was built on earlier achievements, including the generalization of wavelets to represent spherical data and arbitrary geometries. It also incorporated their research on meshes, especially the discovery that two of the three types of coordinates used to describe a mesh consume a large amount of the bit budget but contribute little to quality. Another important contribution was a novel way to build smooth surfaces.

Other collaborators on this research were Ingrid Daubechies, David Dobkin, and Aaron Lee at Princeton University; Andrie Khodakovsky and Igor Guskov at Caltech; Kiril Vidimce at Mississippi State University; and Lawrence Cowsar at Bell Labs. More information on this new technology is available at cm.belllabs.com/who/wim/papers/compression.

Alliances accelerate

National Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara, CA; www.national.com), a supplier of silicon platforms for flat-panel displays, has acquired the operations of Vivid Semiconductors Inc. (Chandler, AZ; www.vividsemi.com), a flat-panel design firm.

3Dlabs Inc. (Cypress, CA; www. 3dlabs.com) and Real Time Visualization (Concord, MA; www.rtviz. com) have agreed to collaborate on the integration of both companies' products. The collaboration seeks to develop a new class of visualization applications that require the seamless blending of polygonal graphics and voxel-based volumetric rendering.

InterSense Inc. (Burlington, MA; www.isense.com), a provider of precision motion-tracking products, and the Barco Group (Kortrijk, Belgium; www.barco.com), a supplier of large-screen projection and virtual-reality systems, have teamed to integrate InterSense's motion-tracking technology with Barco's Baron 3-D tabletop display.

Lens- and filter-manufacturer Schneider Optics Inc. (Hauppauge, NY; www.schneideroptics.com) has purchased Century Precision Optics (North Hollywood, CA; www.centuryoptics.com), a supplier of lenses and accessories.

Technology Trends

The PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG; Wakefield, MA; www.PICMG.com), a consortium of industrial computer-product vendors that design specifications for PCI-based boards and systems, has released its first software-focused specification, the CompactPCI Hot Swap Infrastructure Interface Specification (PICMG 2.12). The specification aims at simplifying the porting of hot-swap infrastructure software to the range of CompactPCI hardware produced by more than 500 PICMG member companies and other organizations.

Interstate Electronics Corp. (Anaheim, CA; www.iechome.com), a supplier of rugged industrial and military displays, is supplying two Warrior Vision active-matrix liquid-crystal displays for the International Space Station to be launched in 2002. These 640 x 480-pixel displays will provide visual references for real-time image control of the station's robot arm.

Data Translation Inc. (Marlboro, MA; www.datatranslation.com) has released its Imaging Omni CD, a software bundle that is included at no charge with all company frame grabbers. This software provides users with the tools to set up a frame grabber, develop imaging applications, and integrate a frame grabber into an existing application.

Atmel Corp. (San Jose, CA; www.atmel.com) has released its MPIX 1 single-chip digital camera processor. This ARM 7 processor IC can support 16-Mpixel CCD and CMOS imagers. It provides DSP functions, JPEG compression/decompression, Flash card and USB interfaces, and multiple color-processing functions.

Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, CA; www.intel.com) has unveiled its 1.13-GHz Pentium III processor. Using a Windows 2000-based benchmark, the processor delivered a 208 performance score compared with a 197 score for the company's 1-GHz Pentium III processor.

National Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara, CA; www.national.com) has developed a scanner-on-a-chip for color image-and-document scanners. The LM9832 chip provides 42-bit resolution scanning, USB 1.1 compliance, 6 million-pixel/s conversion rate, and 50- to 1200-dpi horizontal resolution.

Contracts committed

Data General (DG) Division of EMC Corp. (Westboro, MA; www.dg.com) has been selected by St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey to install a DG Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) and consultation, maintenance, and support services. The "filmless" PACS digital imaging system will automate radiology processes, cut examination times and costs, and eliminate film products and storage space.

American Science & Engineering Inc. (Billerica, MA; www.as-e.com) has received a $5 million contract from the HM Customs & Excise Department of the British government to supply two MobileSearch cargo x-ray inspection systems for detecting contraband items.

Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY; www.kodak.com) has licensed its organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology to Ritek Corp. (Hsin Chu Industrial Park, Taiwan) and Lite Array Inc. (Novato, CA; www.litearray.com) for use in flat-panel OLED displays.

Image Processing Systems Inc. (Markham, Ont., Canada; www.ipsautomation.com) has received a $3.1 million order from Philips Display Components (Slatersville, RI; www. philipspcg.com) to supply turnkey automated display-inspection systems and upgrades for checking color picture tubes and monitors.

Viisage Technology Inc. (Littleton, MA; www.viisage.com) has incorporated its patented face-recognition biometrics technology into an access-control identification system that has been deployed at the corporate headquarters of HarvardNet (Boston, MA; www.harvardnet.com), a supplier of Web hosting services.

InVision Technologies Inc. (Newark, CA; www.invision-tech.com) has received a contract estimated at $27 million over the next three years from the French government's Service Technique Des Bases Aeriennes to supply CTX 9000 DSi computed-tomography-based explosive-detection systems.

Kopin Corp. (Taunton, MA) has been awarded a $2.3 million contract from the US Army to initiate production development of the CyberDisplay 1280 products for military head-mounted displays. The active-matrix, liquid-crystal displays feature a 0.97-in.-diagonal transmissive screen, 1280 x 1024-pixel resolution, and 60-Hz video frame rate.

Dimension Technologies Inc. (Rochester, NY; www.dti3d.com), a developer of three-dimensional autostereoscopic imaging technology, has agreed with Dynamic Digital Depth Inc. (Perth, Australia), a provider of DeepSee technologies for converting 2-D material to stereo 3-D, to cross-license their respective 3-D technologies.

Image Processing Systems Inc. (Markham, Ont., Canada; www. ipsautomation.com), a supplier of electronic vision technology, has received an order for its AGI 9800 autoglass inspection system from an automotive-glass manufacturer. This automated turnkey system, which combines illumination, optics, CCD cameras, and image-processing and analysis software, will be used to detect and measure glass defects such as scratches, pits, bubbles, and inclusions, among others.

Market vision

Cognex Corp. (Natick, MA; www.cognex.com), a supplier of machine-vision systems, has surpassed $5 million in bookings for its In-Sight vision sensor after just six months of sales. The company has also received a purchase order for machine-vision systems exceeding $13 million from Shinkawa Ltd. in Japan. Shinkawa plans to integrate the Cognex vision systems into its wire-bonding, die-bonding, and tape-bonding equipment used during the manufacture of semiconductor chips to attach and assemble semiconductor die to lead frames and other substrates. This new order brings the total value of orders received from Shinkawa in the past 24 months to more than 430 million.

According to Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI; Mountain View, CA; www.semi.org), the North American-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment achieved record shipments in June 2000 with a book-to-bill ratio of 1.26; that is, $126 in orders were received for every $100 worth of products shipped. The three-month average of worldwide shipments in June 2000 was $2.2 billion, which is 73% above the June 1999 shipments level of $1.3 billion.

The Semiconductor Industry Association's (SIA) revised mid-year forecast projects a revenue increase of 31% in 2000 for semiconductors with worldwide sales totaling $195 billion. It predicts a 25% increase in 2002 for $244 billion in sales. The Optoelectronics segment of lasers and image sensors is anticipated to rise 32% in 2000 at $7.6 billion and total $15 billion in 2003. The SIA also announced that worldwide sales of semiconductors reached an all-time high of $16.6 billion in June 2000, increasing from $11.2 billion in June 1999, a 48.1% year-to-year increase. Sales were strong in all geographical regions. The Asia-Pacific and Japanese markets rose 52.8% and 50.8%, respectively. The Americas market surged 42.7% from last year, and European sales spurted 48.1%.

The market research firm Cahners In-Stat Group (Scottsdale, AZ; www.instat.com) reports that the worldwide digital signal processor (DSP) market is estimated to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 34% from 2000 to 2004 and total $19 billion. Max Baron, senior analyst, says that 1999's DSP revenues were $4.4 billion. Most of the DSP revenues are expected mainly from the sales of 16-bit, fixed-point architectures, followed by 20-bit or higher fixed-point architectures and floating-point DSPs.

Kopin Corp. (Taunton, MA, www.kopin.com) has shipped its one-millionth CyberDisplay 320 display just slightly more than one year after launch. This 0.24-in.-diagonal transmissive active-matrix liquid-crystal display provides 320 x 240-pixel resolution, offers 1700 lines per inch, and consumes less than 20 mW. It displays text and graphics at video speeds and includes a backlight and interface electronics.

Management moves

Robert Bicevsk is has been appointed vice president of engineering at Genesis Microchip (Toronto, Canada; www.genesis-microchip.com), a supplier of analog, digital, and dual analog-digital interface products for LCD monitors. He previously held senior engineering and design management positions at ATI Technologies.

StockerYale Inc. (Salem, NH; www. stockeryale.com), a provider of optical components and special illumination products, has appointed Raymond J. Oglethorpe, president of AOL Technologies, America Online Inc., to its board of directors.

Vision Inspection Technology LLC (Haverhill, MA; www.vitechnology.com), a supplier of automated optical-inspection systems, has appointed Ray Whittier technical sales engineer. He previously served as a technical sales engineer at Speedline Technologies.

Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY; www.kodak.com), a supplier of camera technologies and products, has elected Essie L. Calhoun, director of community relations and contributions, as a company vice president.

Identix Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA; www.identix.com), a provider of fingerprint-identification products, has hired David Delledrotti as vice president and general manger of the company's Biometric Imaging Division. He previously served as director of federal government sales and marketing at Lexmark International.

ChromaVision Medical Systems Inc. (San Juan Capistrano, CA; www.chromavision.com), a supplier of automated cellular imaging systems, has appointed Michael Cola to its board of director. He is currently vice president of operations and management services at Safeguard Scientifics Inc.

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