Miravex: 3D Imaging Technology

Miravex started as a company in September 2009 but the project itself started some four years previously. Guido Mariotto and some colleagues, research fellow Dr. Roman Kantor and Professor Igor Shvets, both of whom went on to become co-founders with Guido, were toying with some ideas in the School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin.

In the course of their experimentation they developed a technology where basically by illuminating any surface with a light in a particular fashion it becomes possible to reconstruct the shape of the surface.

They realized that this platform technology, which can be applied to a range of surfaces such as paper, fabrics, skin and leather, had the potential for commercialization. The filed filed a patent application to protect their intellectual property and in parallel to the product development they also started to analyze the market opportunity.

Guido explains further, “We looked at the paper industry and the quality control of paper. We also looked at the area of biometrics, fingerprint recognition and scanning facial features for security screening at airports.

“In the end we concluded that the best opportunity lay in the field of dermatology and cosmetic medicine. For two reasons. One is that the technology works particularly well on skin. The other reason is that the cosmetic medicine market is very large and is constantly growing.”

There seemed to be a requirement for a device that could quantify the results of these treatments.

“Our market research showed that there was no imaging device available that could quantify and measure a number of parameters.

“If you undergo a laser treatment for the resurfacing of the skin, a very common treatment, where clinicians us a laser to burn off the outer layer of the skin and the result should be a smoother skin, there was no way of measuring how much of an improvement there was.

“This was something that clients of cosmetic clinics were starting to require because not all treatments show an immediate result. There is a need for a device that can show the trend for treatment outcomes over a period of time and over a number of sessions to prove that these treatments have an efficacy.”

They have three beta machines in Ireland and one in Italy and have been busy gathering data from the first users. They acquired their first distributor in May, 2010 and have been generating sales since following July.

Miravex is one the companies that will be showcasing their technology at the 4th Annual Silicon Valley Technology Leaders Awards on April the 5th.

“Our strategy was to establish our product in Europe for geographic, regulatory and resource reasons. But the main market is the United States and this is where we want to get.

“The ITLG event will provide us with an opportunity preliminary contacts with potential distributors or beta-testers in the United States. So, it is very important for us to be able to showcase our product at Stanford.”

Movidius: Making the Chips that Power 3D Image Processing

Movidius is a silicon chip company company that is headquartered in Dublin, with operations in Belfast, Romania and Hong Kong. The chips that they create are especially designed to bring the best 3D video experience to mobile phones, tablet computers and consumer products.

The vision for Movidius came from their CTO, David Moloney. He had been doing some research around high-performance computing, and came up with some architectural ideas for new processors that would have a very large amount of computing power with very low power consumption. This could be extremely useful to the mobile computing market as there is only so much power for a given battery size.

That opens lots of opportunities for applications to migrate to the mobile format that were previously only possible to run on PCs.

As well as being a flexible technology that can be applied to lots of different applications in mobile devices, the underlying architecture delivers a very compelling solution for the 3D application area.

There are some quite sizable companies involved in this area, and the CEO of Movidius, Sean Mitchell, explains how they plan to handle themselves in this marketplace, “The strategy that we have approached the market with is not to compete the likes of Invidia or Texas Instruments directly.

“They focus on the main processor within the phone — the application processor. We have developed our chip to be a co-processor that can assist that main processor in delivering its new applications.

“For example, with 3D video, we would be attached to the main application processor, but we would take control of both of the cameras in the system and we would do all the 3D processing. So we are kind of an additional accelerator to boost the performance of the main processor.”

An example of how Movidius products can enable 3D camera—phones be seen in the following video:

Sean continues, “We are complementary to their offering, but they have an ongoing development program themselves so we have to keep ahead of that progress in the main processor and keep offering new stuff.”

The traditional approach to chip manufacturing is to continually up the speed of the processor, but there is an upper limit governed by the need to deliver larger amounts of power to drive them.

Sean says, “Because increasing the processing speed was fundamentally not the way to go – not because of processing but because of power issues – we have adopted a different approach which is a highly parallel, multi-core architecture. It delivers massive computing power but at a much lower level of power consumption per operation.

“We are operating at quite modest clock rates but using much more intelligence in the architecture to deliver the workload.”

Sean is looking forward to showcasing the technology they have at the ITLG/Irish Times Awards, “There’s nowhere else in the world like Silicon Valley where the network connections are so strong. Business is done between people so it is important to make those connections.”

Movidius is one of seven Irish companies that have been invited to the Technology Company Showcase at the 4th Annual Silicon Valley Technology Leaders Awards. It is being held at Stanford University on April 5th and is being sponsored by the Irish Times.

Over the weeks leading up to the event we at Technology Voice will be doing articles on all seven of the companies that are showcasing their technology.

N4D: 3D Viewing Without Glasses

The signs indicate that as technological developments increase and more content is produced we are going to have more opportunities to engage with the 3D viewing experience. ESPN started their new 3D network by broadcasting World Cup footage in 3D in June 2010. Discovery in conjunction with Sony and IMAX plan to launch their own 3D service sometime in 2011 once they have the regulatory approvals. The movie “Avatar” has taken more than three quarters of a billion dollars at the box office so far in the USA. All new animation films made by the major studios will be 3D ready and the back catalog is being enabled with special algorithms to make them compatible with the 3D viewing experience. But the fly in the ointment has been the need for the viewer to wear special kinds of spectacles to be able to appreciate the full 3D effect.

However, that may be a thing of the past.

“The hardware is available now to show 3D without glasses.” according to Mills Vautrot, VP of marketing at N4D based in Atlanta Georgia.

N4D’s stereoscopic 3D system content creation and stereoscopic visualization software development capabilities are the result of over twenty years of research driven by their lead scientist, Carroll Lastinger. Instead of following the convention of earlier years of going through a process of mechanical and technological trial and error he asked himself questions such as, “How does the brain work? How does the mind interact with visual stimuli?” Pursuing the answers to these questions took him to non-traditional engineering research areas such as neurology and cognition.

According to Mills Vautrot, “[Carroll} discovered over twenty different [visual] cues that are rules that need to be adhered to in making 3D content otherwise you will have a non-effective, uncomfortable experience; nausea, headache etc. That set of rules is kind of like the ingredients for making a really good cake. You put a little too much salt you are going to have to balance it with something else.”

Carroll Lastinger’s research not only gave him the criteria for creating a stereoscopic 3D imaging model that showed how each of these visual cues related, interacted and balanced with each other but also produced results which allowed him to create content that can be used on auto-stereoscopic (no glasses needed) 3D monitors.

Even with this knowledge a considerable amount of work still had to be done. To quote Mills Vautrot, “we created a content player that we believe is one of the first in the market place to allow the viewer to see multiple panels on a no-glasses needed 3D monitor. So you have a banner ad across the top ( with advertisement of auto dealer or any such thing), you have a panel center right taking up maybe thirty percent of the screen (displaying weather or local content) and a thin panel across the bottom (displaying live feeds such as CNN or any RSS feed.) Then there is a major screen area that is seventy percent or eighty percent of the central area of the screen that’s showing the 3D advertisements.”

“To have all that happening in stereoscopic 3D on an eight view monitor is quite difficult. We were able to create software able to perform these processes that and do it in a manner that allows real-time changes to the screen configuration and to the size of each banner. So the screen could be divided into two areas or it could be divided into seven areas or eight areas. Each area that is created can be automatically changed as you like.”

N4D are the creators of the content and software for the auto-stereoscopic 3D viewing system and the hardware is manufactured by other companies. Primarily designed for digital signage applications with the addition of some military and medical uses and it will be some time before the system will have widespread use in the domestic environment. It is a highly technical and labour intensive process to create the monitors. The system uses high end computer power and works in conjunction with a specially designed player. At the moment the package costs about $12,000 for a 42″ monitor. However, prices are expected to fall as more people come to take advantage of the technology and the system.

Also, the monitor uses a lenticular screen which has a slight drawback for domestic use in that there are eight ideal ‘sweet’ spots from which to view the screen and benefit from the full 3D effect. For most of us this may mean moving the furniture around but not everyone can do that. These limitations are a result of the physics of this kind of technology.

Nevertheless, by using the lessons derived from our biology and how our brain really works we can now, if present in one of those sweet spots, enjoy the full 3D viewing experience without having to wear glasses.

The Virtual World of Gifted Kids [VIDEO]

Click on image to see the children interact with Gifted Kids Virtual World

At the Gaelscoil Eoghain uí Thuairisc in Carlow, Ireland where lessons are taught in Irish they are implementing the use of 3D technology for the learning support of gifted children. This is the first time that this technology has been used in Ireland to teach part of the school curriculum. The interactivity and detail of the 3D technology means that anything you can do or build in the real world can be replicated in this virtual world.

Gifted children who, at the most conservative estimate, make up 5% of the entire school population are taking part in a pilot programme devised by the school in conjunction with Irish software company Daynuv, and Giftedkids.ie, an association specifically set up to advocate for provisions to be made in the education system and elsewhere for the needs of gifted children.

Bríd Uí Mhaoluala, who runs the project for one hour every week in the school with the children helped to devise the pilot program. She has been working with gifted children for over ten years and she welcomes the lack of need for any real learning curve when initially engaging with the software. She says, “I’m not a computer whizz. I am the sort of person who presses the button without reading the instructions to see what this thing does. But if we can do it here any teacher can do it and that’s the most attractive thing about it, I think. It’s accessible to any teacher who wants to try it.”

She gave the children minimal instruction in how to get started and in a very short time they were way ahead of her in terms of understanding the capabilities of the software and their inventiveness in what they were able to create. The exceptional nature of gifted children, even within the educational community, can be the source of many problems as Brida explains, “Some teachers can be a little bit scared of exceptionally abled children and don’t want to admit that they don’t know how to do it but you need to pack your ego [away] and say, Right, you are going to get this more quickly than I did. You’re probably going to be better at this then I would. So run with it.”

James Corbett, co-founder of Daynuv (an Anglicisation of the Irish word ‘deanamh’ which means making,) a company that provides virtual worlds for education says, “It’s an open source platform called OpenSim which is an open source version of Second Life. What it does is give you a 3D space which, on first blush, looks like a gaming environment that you see on a console.

“It’s a 3D space, you have six degrees of movement, up and down, left and right and in and out of the space. But unlike a game it is not a pre-programmed environment it’s something you can decide exactly what you would like it to be.

“So, what the kids initially get from us is a clean slate, sixteen acres of land that they can terraform, build their own terrain. If they want to build mountains or valleys or rivers or lakes then they can build that. On top of that they can use building tools to build whatever they want. First and foremost it is a platform about building and constructing unlike a lot of console games which are about destructing. It’s…about collaborating.”

Margaret Keane is a strong supporter of the Gifted Kids Virtual World project. She runs Giftedkids.ie which describes itself as “An Online Survival Guide for Parents & Teachers of Gifted Children in Ireland.” It is specifically set up to advocate for provisions to be made in the education system and elsewhere for the needs of gifted children.

Margaret explains the original genesis of the idea, “We were looking for something that we could bring into the classroom because we were getting a lot of requests through the website saying, “We want to know what this information is, we want to know what the characteristics are. What do we need to to look out for? We have [children with] this range of special abilities and we don’t know how to support them.” So they’re looking for practical solutions.”

She met with James and it was agreed that there would be a certain kind of synergy in combining their efforts and Bríd became involved through her participation on the GiftedKids.ie forums.

Margaret says, “I was very excited by the fact that you can use this technology to support the entire curriculum. You can link to all sorts of learning objectives.”

But as important as it is to acquire knowledge and practical skills the Gifted Kids Virtual World technology also acts as a vital communications tool for the children when they are away from the school.

Margaret points out, “That’s where it really helped the social skills because a lot of these kids find it hard to find a peer group within their school or even within their classroom.”

With the inbuilt messaging capability the children can still participate in the Gifted Kids Virtual World from their homes and continue collaborating on the various projects they are working on together.

We made a short video and you can see and hear the children describe for themselves how they interact with both the application and each other. It is only six minutes long and is a testament to the power that 3D technology can have if properly applied.

The pilot programme is expanding and very soon 20 schools in total will be involved. The software is made freely available to schools but sponsors are needed to pay for server and administration costs. 3D technology has moved from the gaming console to the classroom and is facilitating the education of our gifted children. One can only imagine the possibilities if it were made available for all our children.

There is also a flythrough video of the 3D environment in Gifted Kids Virtual World available for viewing here.

Margaret and James would like to offer a special thanks to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland for their part in helping to make the Gifted Kids Virtual World project possible.


Virtual 3D Galway

Click on any of the images to view amazing flyby of Galway City, Ireland.

Three years, two thousand person hours and fifteen thousand high resolution photographs later, Galway City has been rendered into a photo-realistic, wholly-accurate, three-dimensional model. Virtual 3D Galway is an immersive model in which you fly through the City, approach it from any angle and examine it from any perspective.

Gavin Duffy, Technical Director of Realsim, a Galway-based realtime 3D simulation company, began this epic project as a proof of concept. He says, “It is as far as I am aware the most detailed model of any city in Ireland. Because we have spent a lot of time and effort photographing from the ground with high resolution photography, very few of our buildings have people or lamp posts in them. So, we don’t suffer that Google Street View clutter. It’s clean, it’s high resolution, it’s geo-spatially accurate, we think it is as good as anything you’ll find anywhere in the world in terms of a 3D model.”

Realsim’s primary focus is in planning and development. Gavin explains, “Our bread and butter business has been supplying large organisations with realtime 3D models of their own property. Our first major customer was here in NUI Galway. The Buildings Office have a 3D model of the entire campus. They fly around themselves when they are talking to engineers or architectural consultants.

“When they are discussing the ever-changing parking plans, they can fly down to an area and say this is what we need to do here. The feedback has been that it is much more effective than looking at one of those white CAD plans. People know immediately what they are talking about.”

Stepping away from using traditional 3D architectural modelers who don’t normally take into account polygon and data volume, Gavin hired in as Chief 3D Graphic Designer, Eoghan Quigley, an experienced gaming programmer. The volume of vector information and the resolution of imagery that are in a given scene is very important. Even as powerful as modern laptop computers are, it is important to optimise data volumes, and there is a skill in getting the right balance between detail and data volume.

As Gavin points out, this has led to other interesting possible uses for the technology behind Virtual 3D Galway, “An interesting potential avenue [for us] is that because the model is game ready, it can then be applied to real-world games. If someone wanted to develop a game for Galway, it could be very beneficial as a promotional tool for Galway itself. We’re not a gaming company, but we can supply a gaming company with a ready-to-go real city environment on which they can develop a game.”

At the beginning of the project, Galway was mapped by a series of aerial photographs – the raw material of the 3D environment. They provide the base map and it’s also the most efficient way to extract three dimensional shapes for the actual buildings.

But what makes Virtual 3D Galway so special is the time and effort spent walking down every street and alley over an area of three square kilometres containing over six thousand buildings, and even doing that was not as straightforward as it may seem.

Gavin explains, “It’s not just a matter of going out and photographing willy-nilly. The factors you’ve got to take into consideration are [things like] sunlight. Sometimes when sunlight is illuminating a building it can add a nice 3D effect, but if it’s completely in the shadow it is better to come back again on a cloudy day. You’re not going to get good photography in Shop Street (Galway’s main pedestrian thoroughfare) on a Friday evening. Nor are you going to get good photography first thing in the morning when all the delivery trucks are there. Particularly for city centre areas you have got to time exactly when you photograph. There were a lot of Sunday mornings [spent taking pictures] but at the same time you don’t want to photograph shops with the shutters down.

“The very process of acquiring the photographs and getting the optimal times in terms of lighting, lack of people, cars, vehicles, was a challenge in itself, but we were willing to put the the time and effort in to get the very best photography for the model.”

Data currency (the recency and relevancy of data) was, is and will always be a major challenge. Urban environments are in a constant state of flux. Old shops close, new shops open. Warehouses are torn down and cinemas built and so on. Sometimes an old map can be worse than no map.

“Building facades change quite regularly in Galway and we’ve ended up photographing the same facade several times just to keep the model up to date… That will be an ongoing challenge: one of the reasons why I think in the long term other cities in the world will probably have to localise the development and maintenance of their [own virtual] cities. [In order] to maintain an up-to-date city model, a local company will need to manage it.

“For example, Google have covered the UK and Ireland but when are they going to come back? The aerial photography for Galway is well out of date. You don’t see Webworks, and you don’t see the TK Maxx building because they were all construction sites then.”

So as environments and technologies change, the need for new skill-sets and outlooks emerge. New opportunities emerge. But Virtual 3D Galway is more than a backdrop to a game or a functional engineering tool. It is a view of ourselves and where we live reflected back at us in an unerringly accurate manner that we have never witnessed before. The true value of Virtual 3D Galway is in what it can tell us about how we live now and perhaps inform us in some way of how we can live better in the future.

Gavin says, “In the absence of knowledge and proper information, fear and distrust build. [Virtual 3D Galway] allows people to see objectively the true shape of things to come.

“Part of the problem that society has had in terms of imagining a way forward is that people have not been able to communicate their vision. If you can create that vision in a virtual environment, it then becomes a very, very powerful means to promote it and even let people in a virtual way to experience it. I think virtual worlds will have a powerful way in helping people to create a really good and powerful vision for the way we should go forward using virtual world technology.”

SMXQ – James Corbett

As well as being an advocate of 3D technology through his work organising 3Dcamp in Ireland James Corbett is also a prime mover in the Limerick business community; participating in such events as bizcamp Limerick and Open Coffee Limerick.

1. Could you tell us about your background (where you’re from, what you’ve done)?

I’m from rural Co. Limerick and qualified from the University of Limerick in 1995 with a degree in Computer Engineering and Grad. Dip. in Marketing. I went on to work with Apple Computer, Motorola and Analog Devices before starting my first company in 2002 which was an online sports forum. More recently I co-founded Daynuv which which develops virtual world applications for education and training. We received seed funding from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to focus on applications for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

2. What was your route into social media?

I started blogging in 2003 and was shortlisted in the Technology category of the inaugural Irish Blog Awards. Around 2005 I became particularly interested in the area of blog feeds and wrote a lot about a technology which could group feeds in useful ways (called OPML). As a result of the ideas I put forth I was invited to join the advisory board of a Boston, MA startup called Grazr. It was proud moment for me when Dan Bricklin, co-creator of Visicalc, the first spreadsheet software for the PC, later joined the same board.

3. Tell us a little bit (if you can) about what you’re interested in or working on right now.

Daynuv provides the back-end infrastructure for 3D virtual worlds based on the opensource version of Second Life, called OpenSimulator.

A number of educational organizations around the country are currently trialling our system and we have developed a good partnership with GiftedKids.ie which provides much needed support services to talented children and their parents.

4. What social media services do you use regularly and why?

Blogs are still my favourite social media, which I consume voraciously through a feed reader (Google Reader). As much as I enjoy the greater immediacy and two-way conversation of microblogging the original blogging format continues, on the whole, to generate deeper and more meaningful discussion.

Twitter is a close second and particularly good for business networking. It’s the virtual water cooler of choice and my network there churns out numerous nuggets of knowledge and wisdom each day.

LinkedIn is a useful third and continues to gain in importance. I’ve connected with many people there who seem disinterested in Twitter and Facebook. As for Facebook I have a profile there but have yet to find it of any great use. Then again it’s strength lies in true social networking, rather than professional networking.

Another social media service (though not always recognized as such) I find immensely useful is Delicious. I’m following a large number of people there who save bookmarks to articles and services that are often missed by other channels.

I’m also a fan of podcasting though I don’t have time to subscribe to as many channels as I’d like. Recently I’ve tuned into the Audioboo community and am finding it a refreshing return to the raw ‘braindumps’ of podcasting’s roots.

Not forgetting YouTube where I’ve subscribed to a large number of informative channels.

5. If you could only keep one service or tool, what would it be, and why have you chosen it?

I wish I could be original in this but I have to join the choir and chime in with… Twitter. In my ideal world everyone would blog and the necessary realtime protocols and plumbing would be in place to give the federated blogosphere the immediacy and bi-directionality of Twitter. But it’s not an ideal world and Twitter is here now and has the critical mass to be an invaluable intelligence hub.

6. Including your own area of expertise, what developments in social media do you think are particularly important?

As I understand it the technologies behind the emergent ‘federated social web’ have the potential to give us the best of both worlds – the aforementioned benefits of Twitter and the open Blogosphere combined. No one company, whether it be Twitter or Facebook should control the conversation. Microblogging should be no different to email in the sense that no one entity owns or monopolizes it.

7. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before the arrival of social media?

I can network like never before. I can exchange tips and advice with my peers though-out the day, every day. As someone who lived and worked in the cities of Cork and Limerick for a number of years before striking it out alone I had never accounted for the professional isolation of working from a home base in the countryside. That and the fact that I had no latent network to tap when starting my first business mean that without blogging and social networking it’s safe to say I’d have been back working a 9 to 5 job a long time ago.

8. What issues, either technical or social, do you see with social media?

My biggest issue is the tendency towards echo chambers. Which of course is both a social and technical issue. I’m looking forward to more innovations in microblogging tools and conventions that facilitate greater discovery of diverse viewpoints. For instance, the hashtag convention in Twitter is a great way to discover new people around a particular topic of conversation. And to read opinions outside of a stale follow list.

9. What one piece of advice would you give to someone entering the social media world?

Fill in your profile and use a passport-style photo. Then engage in some real conversation before going on a follower hunt. Like most longtime Twitter users I get many new follows each day from people who have built up no ‘track record’ and worse again have protected their tweets. Why would I take the effort to follow them back?

Be generous – retweet interesting points of view even if you disagree with them. Reply to those who engage with you. Reach out to newbies. Make introductions. Vary your tweets – don’t make them all replies, retweets or links. And definitely don’t make them all advertisements for your business.

10. How do you see social media helping and improving things for us in the future?

Innovation happens at the edges. For all the success of social media the flawed design of today’s tools draw us inevitably into silos and echo chambers. Stifling the cross-pollination of ideas across disciplines.

I’m very interested in the area of memetics which brings evolutionary models to the study of cultural information transfer. A meme is defined as a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one person to another by non-genetic means. Memes, like genes, are replicators and ‘use’ people as hosts (interesting aside: the movie ‘Inception’ refers to ‘the idea’ as the most contagious virus in the world).

So I see an evolution of social media in symbiosis with memetics. We will continue to refine the protocols, plumbing and tools such that social media will eventually not be seen as a mere part of the internet but the internet itself will be the ultimate social fabric and a hyper-efficient ‘meme machine’. Boundaries will disappear, silos and echo chambers will be consigned to memory and ideas will flow effortlessly across demographics and disciplines.