| October 25, 2004|
For Immediate Release
Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Startup Company Transforms 3-D Imaging Technology
A new startup company has emerged from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., with a product that processes millions of data points recorded from airborne and ground-based devices — in real time — and turns them into lifelike 3-D graphics that can be used by standard personal computers, saving hours of processing time and millions in budgets for civilian and government users.
The new company, Applied Imagery, located in the Silver Spring (Md.) Innovation Center, is experiencing commercial success well beyond the norm for a startup. Company President Chris Parker attributes this accomplishment to QT Viewer, a unique software program that was the catalyst for his company and is helping clients study earthquake fault lines, crime scenes and archeological sites.
The Applied Physics Laboratory developed the software for a defense project that involved collecting data using airborne lidar surveys — a process that uses laser light pulses — and producing 3-D images of the ground. The challenge was to find a way to process huge amounts of data without crashing the user's computer. APL physicist Michael Roth says, "They really needed a multimillion-dollar supercomputer to process the data from many millions of light pulses, and that wasn't an option. What we had to do was foment a revolution in imaging."
Roth and APL software engineer Kevin Murphy brainstormed ideas, starting with the 3-D video cards used by the video game industry to produce lifelike animation. "We took what video cards were good at and then built what we needed around that," Murphy says. They created a series of algorithms to manage huge amounts of information based on the "quad trees" data-storage and retrieval method (thus the software's name: QT Viewer) that proved effective for processing digital topographic and feature data.
They discovered that they could process lidar data in real time with QT Viewer, giving them the pictures they needed immediately and in a virtual reality interactive format that provided options: a panoramic view; and the ability to zoom in on and around natural landforms and structures, or study the terrain through a line-of-sight vantage point.
Depending on what a user needs, the software can provide a high-resolution, real-time display of an area, such as the entire city of Washington, D.C., with data samples every 18 inches, or concentrate on a smaller area using a laser snapshot with samples every four inches. The user can even drop a "person" into the middle of a scene and ask the system to reveal what the person can see from any vantage point.
"This is the best lidar visualization tool on the market," Parker says. "That's what users are saying. It's given them a way to process enormous amounts of data, very quickly, without crashing their computers. They can ‘walk' through landscapes and cityscapes, see around buildings and see the terrain from any perspective. It's an amazing technology, and it's fun to use, too."
The software's capability has been expanded recently to support more file formats for exporting and importing data, and to deliver more powerful analytical tools. Applied Imagery has also created two new software packages: QT Reader, for what Parker calls the "casual" user; and QT Modeler, designed for those who want to create new data file models.
"Lidar is an emerging technology and Applied Imagery has a significant role to play in its use," says Parker. "We have a niche product but I expect we will do well as the lidar market grows and people realize how useful three-dimensional geospatial data is."
The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.
Applied Imagery is located in the Silver Spring Innovation Center, a high-tech company incubator in Montgomery County, located at 8070 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, Md. 20901. For more information, go to: appliedimagery.com or contact Applied Imagery President Chris Parker at 301-589-4004.
APL's Office of Technology Transfer facilitates the transfer of APL-developed technology to business and industry, to benefit the public and foster economic development. Additional information on the office can be found at http://www.jhuapl.edu/ott/