3-D display offers "crystal-ball" viewing

Three companies have combined their engineering and product skills to develop an innovative multiplanar, volumetric, three-dimensional (3-D) color display that portends to dramatically affect the future of molecular visualization, mechanical computer aided design, e-commerce, and medical imaging.

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George Kotelly, Editor in Chief
georgek@pennwell.com

3-D display offers "crystal-ball" viewing
Three companies have combined their engineering and product skills to develop an innovative multiplanar, volumetric, three-dimensional (3-D) color display that portends to dramatically affect the future of molecular visualization, mechanical computer aided design, e-commerce, and medical imaging. Xilinx Inc. (San Jose, CA: www.xilinx.com) provided its Spartan II FPGA (field-programmable-gate-array) expertise, Avnet Electronics (Phoenix, AZ; www.avnet.com) offered its value-added engineering design and component-access services, and Actuality Systems Inc. (Reading, MA; www.actuality-systems.com) incorporated its novel computational techniques. The result is a successful collaboration that has developed a prototype 3-D display system using an image volume of greater than 100 million voxels, which is claimed to be the greatest usable voxel set of any volumetric display constructed to date.

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Three-dimensional imagery is created by projecting a series of 2-D bitmaps or image slices onto a diffuse screen that rotates at 600 rpm. Persistence of vision fuses the slices into an image volume. In the initial prototypes, a modified Texas Instruments (TI; Dallas, TX; www.ti.com) digital three-mirror device projection engine provides slices at approximately 4 kHz, resulting in 3-bit (8-color) 3-D imagery comprised of at least 198 radially disposed slices that are updated at 4 kHz. Each slice has a resolution of 768 x 768 pixels and subtends 10 in. The display electronics include a custom rasterization architecture, which converts the user's 3-D geometry data into image slices, as well as 6 Gbits of double-data-rate SDRAM graphics memory.

In traditional imaging methods, 3-D information is flattened on a 2-D screen. The Actuality volumetric display makes

3-D data appear to float in a 10-in. hovering image inside a special viewing transparent dome. The display acts as a "crystal ball" for the host computer. It accepts 3-D data from standard imaging sources and converts the data into volume-filling imagery that can be seen around full 360° horizontal and 180° vertical. No head-tracking or additional eyewear is needed.

Actuality selected the Xilinx Spartan II components because of their small size, PCI core, and asynchronous FIFO DDR SDRAM design, input/output signals, and pinout options. According to Gregg Favalora, Actuality Systems' president and chief technology officer, the company is using virtually every feature that the Spartan II FPGAs and Avnet's customer services offer in a cost-effective manner for a startup with limited resources.

As a startup company that chose to ramp up its display design capabilities quickly, Actuality needed technical support, intuitive software, and rare components. Rick Sisk, Avnet vice president and director of emerging channels, says, "[Our] approach to customers, regardless of size, is to provide a single point of contact—an account manager—with access to, and knowledge of, the available services to serve the customer's urgent and evolving needs. We have a dedicated business group that focuses on total engineering solutions for startup customers."

In operation, the XGA-resolution (1024 x 768 pixel) projection engine illuminates a diffuse projection screen that rotates with projection optics and three relay mirrors at or faster than 600 rpm. The projected images are "slices" through a 3-D data set, which when projected in rapid sequence are perceptually fused into sharp, volume-filling 3-D images.

Computations are performed on a TI TMS320C6201 32-bit, fixed-point, digital signal processor. Executable code, computational tables, and FPGA code are stored in synchronous-burst-flash ROMs, which permit field upgrades over a SCSI interface. The DSP interfaces to a SCSI controller via a FPGA with a PCI interface.

The volumetric display system software uses a native API based on most of the OpenGL API standard features. Special controls are added as extensions. Programmers can write custom software for the volumetric display without learning a new graphics language.

The display architecture has been constructed, and electronic assemblies are being debugged. Near-term work includes a full system characterization. Long-term work is focusing on increasing and decreasing the size of the image volume.

Actuality Systems Favalora comments, "Actuality's high-resolution 3-D display began functioning in March. One of the first images we projected was a computed-tomography scan of a woman's skull; it was a giant, eerie skeleton that seemed to float inside the display dome. Since then we've also created multicolor imagery of DNA from Molecular Simulations Inc. (San Diego, CA; www.msi.com) WebLab ViewerPro, a molecular visualization package typical of those used by our accounts in the pharmaceutical industry (see cover photo). Currently, the imagery is 10 in. across and can be seen by many people at once from any viewpoint.

"People working in 3-D machine vision might find it useful to view their data sets in volume-filling three dimensions. That is, I can envision using existing 3-D image-capture devices and algorithms as a source of information that can be projected inside of a virtual "crystal ball" seated next to a workstation. Applications include reverse engineering, forensics, and, as algorithms improve, even real-time 3-D surveillance in which Actuality's 3-D display provides a bird's-eye of a remote location right on a desktop."

Alliances accelerate
eTrue (Southborough, MA; www. etrue. com) is integrating its TrueFace two-dimensional (2-D) facial-recognition technology with the Bio4 (Portsmouth, Hampshire PO3 5XR, England; www.bio4.co.uk) 3-D facial-recognition and 2-D barcode system to deliver secure personal-identification (ID) applications. Because of small code size, facial biometrics can be encoded onto personal cards using the Symbol Technologies Ltd. (Winnersh Triangle, Berkshire RG41 5TP, England; www.symbol.com) 2-D barcodes. Bio4 also will use the Symbol Technologies PPT2740 pocket-sized computer for verifying personal ID cards running on Microsoft's Pocket PC platform, resulting in a mobile face-recognition system.

In another alliance,eTrue has partnered with Microsoft Corp. (Redmond, WA; www.microsoft.com) to provide biometric log-on services for secure Web and network access to Microsoft .NET Enterprise Server customers. The services authenticate users for both Web and local network log-on through multiple biometrics, such as face and fingerprint imaging using video cameras and fingerprint readers, providing 100% user authentication. In addition, eTrue manages all identification registration, authentication, exceptions, administration, and upgrades, as well as a transaction log for reports and audits with its hosting partner Exodus Communications Inc. (Santa Clara, CA; www.exodus.com).

Visualization Technology Inc. (Lawrence, MA; www.VisualizationTechnology.com) is participating in a new venture with HealthSouth Corp. and Oracle Corp., among others, to build future digital hospital. By incorporating the product, engineering, and technology expertise of the project partners, the venture mission is to construct an automated, leading-edge medical facility that will provide unprecedented medical care at lower health-care costs. Visualization Technology is providing image-guided surgery systems based on it No-Block and InstaTrak technologies.

Technology trends
ChromaVision Medical Systems Inc. (San Juan Capistrano, CA; www.chromavision.com) has successfully validated tissue microarray technology for its Automated Cellular Imaging System. This automated technology can perform a full tissue clinical trial on a single slide and analyze data comparisons never before possible.

Toshiba America Medical Systems Inc. (Tustin, CA; www.tams.com), a vendor of diagnostic imaging systems, has developed a multislice Aquilion computed-tomography system. This imaging system provides a 0.5-s rotation speed and can acquire eight 0.5-mm slices/s to aid cardiologists and clinicians with a speedy imaging tool for cardiac applications.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD; Sunnyvale, CA; www.amd.com) has introduced its 1.33- and 1.3-GHz AMD Athlon processors. Using 0.18-µm process technology, the AMD Athlon processors are X86-compatible, seventh-generation design that provides a 266-MHz frontside bus and a superpipelined, nine-issue superscalar microarchitecture for high-clock-frequency and floating-point platforms. Its cache architecture offers 384 kbytes of on-chip cache, 3-DNow technology, and 24 additional instructions for integer math calculations, data movement for Internet streaming, and DSP communications.

VideoRay LLC(Exton, PA; www. videoray.com) has demonstrated its VideoRay remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for searching and imaging underwater areas. The 14 x 9 x 8.5-in., 8-lb ROV comes in an aluminum housing equipped with a 250-ft tether containing power and signal wires. It contains a color CCD camera that provides a 350 horizontal-line resolution, a NTSC/PAL video output, and a 5-lux minimum illumination. Two side-mounted, 20-W, variable halogen lamps brighten the search area. The ROV can deliver video images to a PC screen on the surface via an RS-232 interface port and is capable of working to depths of 500 ft.

Sensors Unlimited Inc. (Princeton, NJ; www.sensorsinc .com) has released its MiniCamera, an InGaAs video camera that can capture images in the near-infrared wavelength band (900 to 1700 nm). The 5 x 6 x 9.5-cm solid-state camera weighs less than 350 g and provides a 320 x 240-pixel resolution imager. It operates at room temperature, consumes less than 1.6 W, and provides 33-dB dynamic range. Other features include an RS-170 compatible analog output, a 12-bit RS-422 digital output, and a C-mount for lenses.

LG Philips LCD Co. Ltd. (Seoul, South Korea; www.lgphilips-lcd.com) has released two small liquid-crystal-display screens for multimedia, medical, automotive, and aerospace applications. The 6.25-mm-thick, 420-g LC121S1 display features a 12.1-in.-diameter screen, an 800 x 600-pixel resolution, and an aspect ratio of 4:3. The 5.7-mm-thick, 310-g LP104S5 display offers a 10.4-in.-diameter screen, 800 x 600-pixel resolution, and an aspect ratio of 4:3.

phoenix x-ray Systems + Services (Camarillo, CA; www.phoenix-x-ray.com) has introduced the 3D inspector x-ray inspection and analysis system for producing 3-D images of nearly all available single-sided and double-sided 8 x 8-in. printed-circuit boards. This system provides as many as 240 imaging slices for detecting shorts and voids in flip chip, fine pitch, and BGA packages as well as finding missing vias and misaligned inner board layers.

Motorola Laboratories (Schaumburg, IL; www.motorola. com) has invented and demonstrated an electrically tunable color display mechanism for color reflective liquid-crystal displays. This mechanism uses an in-plane electrical field to change the color of light reflected from a cholestric liquid-crystal material placed between two glass plates.

Management moves
Photon Vision Systems Inc. (Cortland, NY; www.photon-vision.com), a supplier of CMOS sensor products, has appointed Ken Romano director of hardware engineering; Anthony Frumusa director of systems engineering; and Kerry Van Iseghem director of business development. Romano was previously manager of controls and imaging architecture for Xerox Corp.; Frumusa served as technical manager of controls and imaging architecture for Xerox Corp.; and Iseghem was sales manager for LSI Logic.

ICOS Vision Systems Corp. NV (Santa Clara, CA; www.icos.be), a supplier of machine-vision and inspection platforms, has appointed Masoud Mirgoli US director of sales. He previously served as director of the automation and controls division of Aromat Corp.

CR Technology (Aliso Viejo, CA; www.crtechnology.com) has received the Frost & Sullivan (San Jose, CA; www.frost.com) 2000 Market Engineering Award for Product Line Strategy in the Surface Mount Technology Inspection Equipment category for developing vision and x-ray inspection machines that are technologically advanced, strategically priced, and highly flexible.

Able Software (Lexington, MA; www.ablesw.org) has been granted 510(k) clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration to market its 3D-Doctor software for medical imaging applications. The proprietary vector-based surface-rendering software creates 3-D surface models from cross-section images in real time on standard PCs.

Cognex Corp. (Natick, MA; www.cognex.com) has served a complaint against Electro Scientific Industries Inc. (ESI; Portland, OR; www.esi.com), a supplier of electronic manufacturing equipment, in the United States District Court in Massachusetts. Cognex claims that ESI's CorrectPlace system for placing surface-mount devices infringes one or more claims of Cognex's US pat. #5,371,690, "Method and Apparatus for Inspection of Surface mounted Devices," which was granted in December 1994. Cognex is asking the court to stop ESI from making and selling CorrectPlace systems or any other product that infringes their patent.

Adept Technology Inc. (San Jose, CA; www.adept.com) has appointed Matthew Murphy vice president of engineering. He previously held several executive management positions at ADAC Medical Systems.

Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY; www.kodak.com) has nominated former US Senator William W. Bradley to the company's board of directors. He is managing director of Allen & Co. Inc.

iFire Technology Inc. (Toronto, ON, Canada; www.ifire.com) has named Koichi Wani director of advanced engineering. He was recently head of engineering and research and development for Matsushita Electric's plasma display division.

Contracts committed
eMagin Corp. (Hopewell Junction, NY, www.emagin.com) has signed a $5 million contract as a renewal of its Phase III Small Business Innovation Research with the US Air Force. The research will further advance the development of high-resolution active-matrix organic-light-emitting-diode microdisplays toward high-luminance applications exceeding 30,000 cd/m2.

Alphatech Inc. (Burlington, MA; www.alphatech.com), a supplier of license-plate recognition imaging systems, has received contracts from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (Phoenix, AZ) to expand the airport's parking and revenue control system.

Basler Vision Technologies—Machine-Vision Components Division (Exton, PA; www.basler-mvc.com) has won an intelligent line-scan camera contract potentially worth more than $750,000 from a large OEM who is building systems to inspect small discrete parts.

FLIR Systems Inc. (Portland, OR; www.flir.com) has been awarded a five-year $126 million contract by the Naval

Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, to upgrade the US Marine Corp.'s UH-1N helicopter fleet with the company's Brite Star airborne infrared imaging and laser designator system. This system uses thermal imaging technology, a visible light camera, and a laser rangefinder for long-range target identification and image clarity under adverse climatic conditions.

Market vision
According toSemiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI; Mountain View, CA; www. semi.org), the North American-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment reported a February 2001 book-to-bill ratio of 0.77; that is, $77 in orders were received for every $100 worth of products shipped. The three-month average of worldwide shipments in February 2001 was $2.4 billion, which is 1% greater than the revised January 2001 value of $2.3 billion but 48% higher than the $1.6 billion shipment level of February 2000.

TheFlat Panel Monitor Market Trends 2001 study from Stanford Resources (San Jose, CA; www.stanfordresources.com) reports that worldwide unit shipments of desktop and workstation flat-panel monitors are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 40% from 2001 to 2007, reaching 91.2 million units at a worth of $24.4 billion in 2007.

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