Photon-X Prepares to Make a Big Splash
By Carl Kotala
What started out as a medical device company has become a burgeoning pioneer in 3D imaging, and its technological applications now cover a multitude of platforms.
Photon-X has been in business for 15 years and relocated from Huntsville, Ala. to Kissimmee a year ago as part of its process of transitioning from a research and development company into a commercial venture using its patented Spatial Phase Imaging (SPI) sensor as its core technology.
“Spatial Phase Imaging basically allows us to understand the light we see that’s coming from various objects,” Photon-X President and CEO Blair Barbour explained. “Different objects will reflect and emit different things. This now allows us to be able to capture that information and read the orientation of the surface that we’re looking at so we can build a 3D model of anything we want in real time.”
One example of how this is being applied might be a small Photon-X camera mounted next to a TV monitor, displaying an ad or even a program in a retail store or mall. Their technology scans the face of viewers, records not only who they are, but monitors their eye movements as they view the screen and can even interpret emotional responses and interest in what is depicted. Sound like science fiction? Photon-X has made it science fact.
The technology has grown over the years after the company decided to branch out from the medical device business and began landing Department of Defense contracts. They have done work with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, not to mention the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, among others.
“We’ve had a good array of customers who have seen our technology and really like what we’re doing,” Barbour said. “They think what we’re doing is a very unique technology that lends itself very beautifully to commercialization and commercial applications.”
A New Home in Florida
This certainly is an exciting time for Photon-X, which is enjoying its new home. When the company decided to enter the commercial markets three years ago, it decided to leave Huntsville in part because it was having trouble attracting commercial businesses to visit them in an area dominated by government and defense firms.
“We knew we needed to move at some point, so we started looking around for places,” Barbour said. “We had become partners with the Ideas Integration group downtown, so Orlando started looking like a pretty good potential location.
“As we started talking to the counties – both Orange County and Osceola County – Osceola County did a fantastic job of stepping up and really giving us some incentive packages and things that allowed us to come here and be a part of the community and commercialization efforts that are going on here.”
Photon-X has identified four markets it plans to hit first because it believes it can get its products to the market quickly, and with financial success.
Arts & Entertainment
Several producers have looked at what Photon-X can offer, particularly with special effects, and have felt they could potentially save 60 to 70 percent of their work time.
“We can capture full 3D, very high resolution information off anybody or anything. All the motion capture comes without the little markers live and right in front of them,” Barbour said. “It allows them to capture that information and then they can create monsters from it, because we have high resolution polygonal meshes that we can pull around and stretch to create horns or whatever they want.”
The technology also creates the ability to re-light a scene dynamically and in real time.
Photon-X is working with a company called Lucidux, which is doing minimally invasive surgery applications. Using an endoscope with Photon-X’s 3D camera technology, surgeons will be able to look inside the body and record all the analytics – the measurements, density of skin tissues, etc. They could even look at a polyp or cancer cell and digitally re-render it and move it around the screen for closer inspection.
“There isn’t a camera today that can do these sorts of things,” Barbour said. “There have been a lot of attempts out there to try to do different kinds of 3D imaging in the body, but nothing that’s really been very successful to date.
“We think this now takes it to the next step where it also provides all the analytics, and the analytics can be things from measurements to imagery. There’s a whole array of things that can come off of that, which is going to make those surgeries better. It’s going to make them a little bit cheaper because now the surgeons don’t have to spend as much time operating and they can record the information forever. There are countless research opportunities too.”
Intelligent Digital Advertising Networks (IDAN)
Businesses using digital billboards for advertising can take advantage of Photon-X’s eye gaze, emotional response and facial recognition capabilities to see just how successful that ad campaign is.
Used strictly for demographic purposes, the technology can measure whether the person approaching the billboard is male or female and approximate their age.
“We can look at where the eyes are actually looking,” Barbour said. “Do we look at the polar bear in the Coke ad? Or do we look at a Coke can? Or do we look at the blue sky? We can look at that and then look at what the emotional response is as they look at that ad, which is huge, because now it allows us to put that in a database.
“If you put this in stores across the country, now you have an automatic focus group – by region, by person, by age, by race, etc. It now gives you the full demographics instantaneously.”
Two major oil companies have already shown interest in Photon-X’s sensors and technology that would set up cameras that can use predictive modeling to determine what’s going to happen, rather than being used for the postmortem after an accident.
Say someone is walking in the rig area and is coming up on a space where dangerous, heavy machinery is operating. The camera will set off an alarm, kind of a “geo-fencing” scenario, to protect that person. It can also be used as a security device that tells when a person doesn’t belong in the area. When people aren’t around, it can also do maintenance monitoring, warning if there is a slip surface, cracks or perhaps corrosion building up to a high level.
“These cameras can operate in multiple functions and perform multiple activities from within the same camera,” Barbour said. “Now, it’s not just a dumb security camera. It’s actually an active system that’s doing predictive modeling and creating a safe zone for people. We’ve had a lot of interest from both Exxon and BP.”