09/02/2008 07:00:00

Caltech Invention Earns R&D 100 Award

PASADENA, Calif.-Research done at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has been honored with R&D Magazine's R&D 100 Award. The award recognizes significant new technologies from the past year. 

Making the list this year was work conceived by Morteza Gharib (PhD '83), the Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and professor of bioengineering at Caltech, and by his team, including Emilio Graff (PhD '07) and postdoctoral fellow Francisco Pereira. The team designed a three-dimensional camera with a vast array of possibilities, ranging from 3-D movement tracking for rehabilitation to underwater surveillance. Their invention, the Volumetric 3-Component Velocimetry Video (V3V) System, has been licensed and marketed by TSI Inc., a Minnesota-based company that designs and manufactures precision instruments used to measure flow, particulates, and other key parameters.

"This award is a recognition that basic research can have a by-product for society," says Gharib. "My dream is for this device to become routine in robotic surgery."

The path to developing his three-dimensional camera began in 1992, when he and graduate student Christian Willert came up with the idea of "defocusing." As simple as it sounds, it's the process of making a "perfect image imperfect, and then extracting information out of that so-called imperfection," says Gharib.

The work was originally developed as underwater flow surveillance technology for the U.S. Navy. The camera includes a lens with three apertures--as opposed to one used in typical cameras. Rather than viewing a two-dimensional image, the three apertures give the image depth.

Gharib quickly recognized the camera's potential use in fields such as sports, industry, and medicine. For example, if physicians wanted to analyze the velocity of a person's gait, the camera might be used to record movements versus recording measurements by attaching multiple wires to the legs. The V3V camera converts those movements into numbers, information a computer program then analyzes.

Gharib also sees a potential for using his camera on the end of a surgical catheter, allowing a surgeon to better observe a patient's arteries during minimally invasive surgery. Using 3-D imagery from the camera, the surgeon would be able to make more precise incisions from within the artery itself.

The V3V System obtained its first of a series of patents in 2000. In January of this year, it was officially put on the worldwide market by TSI. The company serves industries, governments, research institutions, and universities.

Since 1963, R&D Magazine has showcased annually the most significant new technologies commercialized during the previous year. Winning an R&D 100 Award is recognition that the product is one of the most innovative ideas of the year. Previously, the R&D 100 Awards have recognized products such as the ATM in 1973, the liquid crystal display in 1980, the Nicoderm antismoking patch in 1992, and digital television in 1998. To get a full list of the 2008 R&D 100 winners, go to http://www.rdmag.com/awards.html.



Written by Jon Weiner