Able Software launches 3-D image processing tool for PCs

October 13, 1999

Firm targets diagnostic, clinical review applicationsIn the ongoing quest to reduce overhead costs for healthcare institutions, medical imaging device and software developers continue to seek more efficient, low-cost products. It’s no

Firm targets diagnostic, clinical review applications

In the ongoing quest to reduce overhead costs for healthcare institutions, medical imaging device and software developers continue to seek more efficient, low-cost products. It’s no different in the 3-D imaging realm, as companies vie to provide users with a way to conduct complex volume rendering tasks without the need for expensive workstations. Last month, another player in the 3-D market, Able Software, made a move toward this goal with the launch of an upgraded version of 3-D Doctor, the Lexington, MA-based company’s image processing and 3-D rendering software for standard desktop PCs.

Bringing 3-D rendering to medical imaging has been a slow process. Although standard PCs can handle basic applications such as surface rendering, such complex tasks as volume rendering have required Unix-based workstations, like Silicon Graphic’s O2 workstation that Vital Images uses with its Vitrea 3-D rendering software package (SCAN 1/13/99). But companies such as Voxar, Mitsubishi Electronics, and now Able Software have begun to focus their R&D energy on making 3-D imaging viable on PCs.

Able Software was founded in 1993 by Ted Wu, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D. who is also the firm’s president. Since then, it has been developing high-end pattern recognition and image processing software for satellite imagery and computer mapping applications. Able chose to enter the medical imaging market because it believes the industry could benefit from the same imaging and 3-D graphics technologies the company has developed for handling large images and complex 3-D objects.

3-D Doctor detects object boundaries from MRI, CT, and other images that contain 3-D volumes, creating 3-D surface and volume rendering for diagnostic imaging and visualization, according to the company. It also obtains measurements of volume and surface area, and supports another Able Software product, 3DBasic, a scripting tool for writing customized imaging programs. 3-D Doctor can be used with MRI, CT, and microscopy images, and for specific applications such as brain imaging and blood vessel and bone modeling.

In addition, Able Software believes that 3-D Doctor can be used for diagnosis, as well as for clinical review, according to Wu.

“3-D Doctor has enough power to be used for diagnosis,” Wu said. “It provides image processing functions for feature enhancements and recognition, accurate image measurement functions, and functions to reslice volume image so features can be more visible from a different viewing angle. It can handle pretty much (any data set) a scanner can generate, up to 200 MB.”

In contrast to other 3-D rendering products for PCs, 3-D Doctor uses polygon-based rendering to create an image: The algorithm places a grid over the object and fills it in using a technique called texture mapping. Other companies have taken a different tack. In May, Mitsubishi launched VolumePro, a 3-D graphics accelerator board that performs 3-D functions by focusing on image data’s voxel cubes, hitting each voxel in an object as the algorithm reads each slice (SCAN 6/9/99). Voxar offers Voxarlib Medical, a library of 3-D software development tools that allow PCs to perform 3-D applications such as volume rendering. Voxarlib Medical also works with voxels rather than polygons, according to the Edinburgh, Scotland, company (SCAN 2/18/98).

Able debuted its first version of 3-D Doctor last year. The new version has been dramatically upgraded, according to Wu, and now supports more image types and formats, boasts enhanced 3-D rendering algorithms, and includes such new image processing functions as automatic image alignment, reslicing, and improved deconvolution. It also supports more 3-D formats for export and import, such as DXF, STL, VRML, and 3DS. Also new to this 3-D Doctor package is the inclusion of 3DBasic.

The package is licensed for approximately $2400 and is available now. Initial marketing will be to clinical researchers through Able Software’s distribution network. PACS software vendors have also shown interest in 3-D Doctor, Wu said.

Looking to the future, Able Software believes that 3-D imaging software will be used by doctors and researchers like any other desktop spreadsheet or word processing program. The company plans to continue R&D work on 3-D Doctor, further enhancing the package with more automation and functions that aid in feature detection to assist diagnosis, Wu said.