Utah State University Receives Patent for 3-D Camera

January 29, 2004

LOGAN – A patent received by Utah State University for 3-D Multispectral Imaging could revolutionize the world of reconnaissance, movies, video games, geological surveying, disaster response, homeland security and even the way we view our evening news.

“This type of camera enables instant 3-D images to be acquired from moving vehicles such as airplanes or trucks,” said Robert Pack, Ph.D., co-inventor. “The military could use it during warfare, the space industry could use it for docking space craft, it would be an important tool for disaster relief, and newscasters could insert images into live segments. The uses are almost endless.”

Pack, a research professor in the College of Engineering at Utah State and engineer at the Space Dynamics Laboratory came up with the idea eight years ago with help from his brother Brent Pack, a retired electrical engineer.

“I ran a company for 10 years that did geological and aerial surveying,” Pack said. “We were always fighting to get good survey information from under trees and in rough country. Every time I flew off in a helicopter and looked down through the trees I thought, there has got to be a better way.”

According to Pack, he began to watch the evolution of lidar technology and started a separate company focusing on lidar. He and his brother came up with some ideas, and within a year they had thought up this new technology and started to research it.

“We felt this was something that was really needed,” said Pack. “It really shocked us when we found out no one was doing anything similar and no one even knew what we were talking about.”

Pack and his brother decided to move the technology to Utah State to help incubate, develop, patent and market it. Existing technology in this area requires a computer to spend hours transforming the raw data into a three-dimensional image. The new technology is able to produce a 3-D image immediately. It is based on ladar imaging, which is an accurate system similar to radar, but uses light in place of radio waves.

One of the first areas identified to be in need of this technology was the Department of Defense (DoD). Presentations were made to the DoD, and a three-year contract to develop this camera for use in a cruise missile was procured over a year ago with the Naval Warfare System

“We are the only 3-D camera technology that works in a dynamic environment such as a missile or aircraft,” said Pack.

An example he gave of a military use was finding a tank hidden under a tree canopy. As the camera is flying overhead it will get a glimpse of what is under that tree. Utah State’s 3-D technology will be able to pick up the image from under the tree and tell the computer where that object was hidden. When it flies over again and sees the object from the different angle, it will be able to identify it.

“Without having a third dimension to the photography, you couldn’t put two and two together,” said Pack. “It will help the military, homeland security and other organizations understand complex landscapes.”

Other potential markets for this technology include the commercial and private sectors. Film makers could create 3-D special effects from real objects. The gaming industry could use real topography in video games instead of creating it virtually.

“This technology can be used everywhere.” Pack said. “We are finished with the research part and we have now moved into the development side.”

The Utah Center for Advanced Imaging Ladar was created last July to market this technology. The patent was obtained through Utah State University Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Management and Commercialization. Its role is to patent, license, and promote Utah State University’s and the Research Foundation’s technologies.