AVS forms medical products groupto move 3-D from R&D lab to market

March 27, 1996

Developer's software used in ADAC's MacroVisionThe use of 3-D applications in medical imaging has long been hamperedby the high cost of computer hardware, which made 3-D imagingtoo expensive for routine clinical use. In the last year,

Developer's software used in ADAC's MacroVision

The use of 3-D applications in medical imaging has long been hamperedby the high cost of computer hardware, which made 3-D imagingtoo expensive for routine clinical use. In the last year, workstationprices have dropped from the stratospheric to the merely expensive,but another obstacle remains to widespread clinical adoption of3-D: the labor-intensive task of writing software for 3-D applications.

Advanced Visual Systems of Waltham, MA, hopes to remove thisbarrier through its AVS/Express object-oriented software, whichallows users to develop 3-D imaging applications far more quicklythan if software code were written from scratch. AVS last monthformed a medical products group to focus its efforts in healthcare.Those efforts will center on signing up medical imaging OEMs andacademic research facilities to use its software (SCAN 2/28/96).

AVS was founded in 1992 as a spin-off from Stardent Computer,a workstation manufacturer that eventually went out of businessdue to fierce competition in that segment, according to Ham Lord,director of the medical products group of AVS. AVS is privatelyheld, has about 130 employees, and has annual revenues of about$20 million.

Early on, AVS software was used for developing 3-D applicationsfor oil and gas exploration purposes, and the software is alsoused in the instrumentation testing field. AVS recognized severalyears ago that medical imaging was a promising market for itstechnology, and began shopping the software to OEMs and clinicalresearch sites. The company scored a coup in 1994 when it signedon nuclear medicine vendor ADAC Laboratories of Milpitas, CA,as an OEM. ADAC used AVS/Express as the basis for its MacroVisionand ProVision programming utilities (SCAN 12/14/94).

Software programmers using AVS/Express to develop 3-D imagingapplications choose from several thousand objects. These objectsrepresent application functions, such as image display or thereading of data from disk, that otherwise would require the writingof hundreds or thousands of lines of computer code.

In ADAC's case, the vendor has adapted AVS/Express for nuclearmedicine by encapsulating its image processing algorithms as MacroVisionobjects, according to Lord.

"Now the technicians using MacroVision don't have to bewriting C or Fortran codes to do image processing, they just takethe objects that ADAC has created," Lord said. "It providesthe ability for someone to reuse code that other people have generated.Most people don't want to reinvent the wheel."

An AVS/Express developer package carries a list price of $25,000,with additional developer suites priced at $6000. The programruns on platforms manufactured by all the major workstation vendors,as well as on Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems.

With 3-D imaging gaining increased visibility, medical imagingvendors are looking for ways to offer 3-D applications to theircustomers. AVS/Express will give them an opportunity to do sowithout spending millions on software development engineers, accordingto Lord.

"The medical imaging manufacturers aren't necessarilyset up to build those applications," he said. "Witha development environment like AVS/Express, they can start creating3-D applications a lot faster than if they were building themup from scratch each time."

In addition to marketing AVS/Express to healthcare users, thecompany's medical products group will direct ongoing work to adaptthe software to medical imaging applications, such as by addinga DICOM 3.0 reader. Other OEMs using AVS/Express include magneticsource imaging developer Biomagnetic Technologies of San Diegoand Advanced Radiation Therapy Systems of King of Prussia, PA.Academic research customers include the University of Washingtonin Seattle and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, both ofwhich are doing work in 3-D ultrasound.

Lord believes that the recent introductions of low-priced workstationsfrom companies like Sun, Silicon Graphics, and Hewlett-Packardare a positive trend. Even more appealing, however, are powerfulPCs based on Intel microprocessors and running the Microsoft WindowsNT operating system. These computers will approach the performanceof workstations at a fraction of the cost.

"Having real-time hardware at a $20,000 price point isgoing to be a key stepping stone to the acceptance of this technology,"Lord said, referring to recent introductions by workstation vendors."But where we will really see it kick in is in the next yearor two, when those 3-D systems are under $10,000. That's whenit starts to make a lot more sense for doctors to use 3-D as partof regular clinical practice."