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Voxar expands use of 3-D technology in PACS and teleradiology networks


Voxar expands use of 3-D technology in PACS and teleradiology networksFirm to open U.S. sales and marketing office While 3-D image reconstruction tools might be handy additions to image viewing stations on PACS and teleradiology

Voxar expands use of 3-D technology in PACS and teleradiology networks

Firm to open U.S. sales and marketing office

While 3-D image reconstruction tools might be handy additions to image viewing stations on PACS and teleradiology networks, their use has typically been confined to high-end, postprocessing workstations in the radiology department. Scottish 3-D software developer Voxar believes that its low-cost, PC-based 3-D reconstruction tools could expand the use of these image analysis tools to home teleradiology and standard PACS workstations, as well as PCs in referring physicians' offices.

Voxar's product, called VoxarLib Medical, consists of software that medical imaging and PACS/teleradiology vendors can adapt to write 3-D applications for inclusion in their products. The Edinburgh-based company made its North American debut at the 1997 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, where it demonstrated its technology in the InfoRAD section (PNN 1/98).

VoxarLib Medical's basic configuration, which was released in June 1997, supports surface rendering, maximum intensity projection (MIP), and multiplanar resampling (MPR). A new version that offers volume-rendering capability was completed at the end of May and is now available to OEM customers.

In contrast to many other 3-D software applications that reproduce images as polygons in an attempt to increase speed, VoxarLib Medical treats 3-D objects as voxels, or cubes, which are the natural form in which the original image data are generated. Voxel-based rendering offers a better representation of the original image data, according to the company.

VoxarLib Medical can run on Windows NT and 95, as well as on Macintosh and Unix-based platforms. One of the strengths of VoxarLib Medical is the low level of computer horsepower it requires, said Andrew Bissell, an Edinburgh University computer science graduate who founded Voxar in 1991.

A standard PC with a 200-MHz Pentium processor and 32 MB of RAM is sufficient, he said. No 3-D graphics card is necessary, and VoxarLib Medical takes up little memory footprint, Bissell said.

"Despite working on these small platforms, we don't sacrifice any performance," Bissell said. "We still get many frames per second of display speed so you can interactively rotate, zoom, and manipulate scan data. That's important because radiologists don't have a lot of time when they're doing a diagnosis. We try to expedite things for them."

In addition to being able to rotate scans at dozens of frames per second, users can also stop image rotation to zoom in on a selected area. Full resolution appears in less than a third of a second.

Voxar employs an OEM distribution model for its technology, with no plans for end-user sales. Seven PACS and teleradiology firms have signed OEM agreements to include VoxarLib Medical in their offerings, Bissell said. Application development work is under way, and the product will be available in the late summer.

The basic VoxarLib Medical developer's kit runs $5000 for a Windows or Mac-based version, while a Unix system costs $7500. A kit also equipped with volume-rendering capability would cost $15,000 for a Windows or Macintosh system, and $22,500 for a system running on a Unix platform. Customers of the basic developer's kit can add volume-rendering capability for the difference between the two versions. In addition to the upfront costs for the developer kits, OEM customers also pay Voxar a licensing fee for each unit shipped into the field.

As part of its plan to increase its number of OEM customers, Voxar plans to open a sales and marketing office in the U.S. Although a final site has not yet been determined, Voxar currently maintains a part-time office in San Francisco, and that location may ultimately be chosen for the permanent office, Bissell said. To staff the office, Voxar will be hiring several sales managers, as well as a board-level position with the title of director of strategic marketing for the medical market. Responsibility for European sales and marketing will be retained by company headquarters in Scotland, and the firm is evaluating its plans for the Asian market, Bissell said.

While PACS and teleradiology sales currently make up 65% of the company's revenues, Voxar also sells versions of VoxarLib to companies participating in the surgical planning sector, as well as firms developing 3-D postprocessing workstations.

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