Sarnoff Expands Its Vision

Pyramid Vision Technologies (PVT), a wholly owned subsidiary of Sarnoff Corporation, made a big sale last month to the Department of Homeland Security. The agency will buy a large quantity of VideoDetective units to provide small communities and rural areas with technology and equipment for emergency response preparedness.

PVT was incorporated in 1997 and acquired a new general manager, Rick Crawshaw, two months ago. “With Rick on board,” says Peter Burt, Sarnoff’s vice president of vision technologies, “we are ready to move from a specialized government marketplace to a larger, more general marketplace with a broader suite of products.”

“Pyramid vision mathematics” is the generic term for a mathematical technique used for image processing. For about 20 years developments in pyramid technology stayed within the confines of Sarnoff Corporation. Under the direction of Burt, it focused on areas like machine vision systems, video content analysis, and automatic recognition systems. Burt is also Pyramid Vision’s chief scientist and guides the company’s product development programs.

But in the wake of September 11 came a growing interest in using vision systems for safety, security, and warning applications. With increasing interest from government entities, Sarnoff’s vision technology group started to work intensively on developing new techniques for analyzing images.

After years of research, says Crawshaw, “we have developed a core set of technologies that we can apply to many different market sectors and industries — security and surveillance, transportation and traffic, and automotive — and we are looking at education, medical, and entertainment.” He adds that Sarnoff has had nine Emmys in the vision area.

At Sarnoff the business model is one of contract engineering services, and Pyramid is taking the innovations and new products developed through those research and development contracts and bringing them to the commercial marketplace. “Pyramid Vision is a business entity set up to establish a ‘brand’ name for public and commercial consumption of Sarnoff vision products,” explains Lou Ann Wingerter, manager of corporate communications at Sarnoff Corporation. Of the 442 current Sarnoff employees, 120 with vision expertise can be tapped to work in Pyramid Vision activities.

VideoDetective, a five-year-old product, serves the law-enforcement community by creating high-resolution composite pictures from grainy, low-quality videos. Rather than improving the information in each individual frame (the standard video frame rate is 30 frames per second) as Adobe Photoshop might do, VideoDetective uses sophisticated techniques to collect information, frame by frame, and then takes the accumulated information to build a higher-quality representation of what is going on in the video.

Say there is a grainy image of a face. By adding up information from each separate frame, even if the face is moving and appears in a slightly different location in each frame, the software can create a high-clarity, super-resolution picture that law enforcement personnel will be able to use to actually see the finer details of the face. Some of the firm’s customers, says Crawshaw, can look at the reflections of a passing car captured from the window of a parked vehicle and reconstruct the license plate.

One of the components of VideoDetective is the second of Pyramid Vision’s trademarked brands. This 10-year-old family of products, Acadia, has an applications-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that allows a software algorithm to run on both a silicon chip and a circuit board. The chip accepts live video inputs, and the pyramid algorithm operates on the shaky image. Shaky images can actually make a viewer motion sick, and this product helps stabilize the image.

This circuit is used in the VideoDetective but is also sold as a stand-alone unit. Suppose a manufacturing plant wants to view all trucks coming and going in their yard. A camera might sit on a pole, where it is subject both to the wind and vibrations of passing trucks. This product will take away the shaking, in real time, so that the person in the security office views a clear, stable picture.

The same circuit is part of the third and newest product, TerraSight, which takes data gathered from cameras on one or several planes and creates a “real, live version” of what in video games appears as a three-dimensional representation of a virtual world. Using a representation of the surface of the earth available from government databases, TerraSight consolidates images from airborne cameras and overlays them on the “known” three-dimensional terrain map. TerraSight builds a live video representation that can be viewed with a joystick and controls, and users can rotate and move themselves to any place in the picture. The process of adjusting these real-time images onto a “known good reference” is called geo-registration.

An example of a civilian use for TerraSight is in fighting widespread wild fires. Suppose that cameras are attached to eight unmanned air vehicles flying over the fire areas. The tacticians need to know where the access roads are, where water is available, what has already been burned, what forests are untouched, and which way the fires are moving. With TerraSight live video streams can provide all of this information.

TerraSight is being used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is also useful to FEMA in the midst of an emergency. The company is now working to expand TerraSight’s capabilities to include ground-based cameras so that a soldier or firefighter can have a hand-held PDA for communications from the command center.

Crawshaw grew up in central Pennsylvania, where his father owned a lumber mill, but he and his wife (an RN with master’s degree in business) are coming to Princeton from San Diego, California. A former pilot, he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Oregon State University in 1980 and a master’s degree in physics at the University of Oregon. In graduate school he worked with a psychophysicist who was exploring how bats can navigate through complex environments using sound-echo location.

Because of his familiarity with this research, he spent a year as a civilian scientist with the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego, which was doing similar research with whales and dolphins. “During that time I became interested in machine vision systems,” says Crawshaw.

One of the obstacles faced by vision scientists then and now is understanding how the eye works and trying to develop machines that function like people when analyzing pictures. “The computers necessary to do that back then were quite big,” explains Crawshaw. He joined a small consulting company that specialized in high speed array processors, to run number-crunching algorithms. His path since then, he says, has involved “learning more about how people and animals see, understand, and how we can take that ability down to a computer level.”

Crawshaw also spent some time with a company (eventually purchased by Hewlett-Packard) that wrote image-understanding algorithms used in a technology called laminography, and he worked for another company on state of the art neural network algorithms.

Moving to Iteris (accent on the second syllable), he was vice president of engineering for about 12 years. Iteris, he says, “did vision products along the same path as Sarnoff.” Its AutoVue product, for cars and trucks, uses cameras to detect and alert a driver to “unintended lane departures” up ahead.

PVT does have competitors, and four other companies in Princeton work in the same general area (see articles below). Crawshaw says that PVT’s VideoDetective is at the top for its technology, although a contender (StarWitness, based in Cary, North Carolina) has recently emerged. About Acadia, he says, “We are at the head of the pack in performance. There are other companies that either solve that problem differently or try to do it in the same way but not as well.” He expects that some competitors might enter the market at a lower cost. TerraSight has no competitor.

“Since 2000 Pyramid Vision’s sales have been from $2 million to $4 million per year,” says Burt, who hopes that will increase dramatically. “Rick has a lot of experience and success in commercial vision products; he was brought into the company because he has a great product record.”

—Michele Alperin

Pyramid Vision, 201 Washington Road, Box 5300, Princeton 08543; 609-734-2929. Rick Crawshaw, general manager. Home page: www.pyramidvision.com

Other Companies

Verificon Corporation, 6 Colonial Lake Drive, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-273-1694; fax, 258-3745. Wayne Wolf, chairman. Home page: www.verificom.com

Verificon, a spin-out from Princeton University, was founded in 2003 by Wayne Wolf, an electrical engineering professor. Last year the company opened an office at Colonial Lake Drive. Burak Ozer is the president, and Tiehan Lv is vice president of software development.

Verificon develops embedded vision systems for security and retail applications. In particular, it aims to commercialize smart camera technology that can recognize human gestures. Running on standard PCs, and taking video from either analog or digital cameras, it can track the movements of multiple persons moving in a large area.

Thanks to a recent contract with ARA Software, this technology is being used in surveillance systems that have been installed in Japanese power plants. Headed by Yakasuki Murai, ARA Software is based in Hokkaido, Japan.

SightLogix/Automated Threat Detection, 745 Alexander Road, Suites 5 and 6, Princeton 08540; 609-951-0008; fax, 609-951-0024. John Romanowich, president. Home page: www.sightlogix.com

SightLogix has surveillance systems for securing large outdoor areas and perimeters. Its flexible video camera system enables organizations to deploy, operate, and manage their outdoor video surveillance over an IP network from a single, centralized security command center.

It is being marketed as a cost-effective surveillance at airports, seaports, railroad yards, power and petrochemical plants, government facilities, and similar “open” properties (U.S. 1, January 24, 2007).

Sensing Strategies Inc., 114 Titus Mill Road, Pennington 08534; 609-818-9801; fax, 609-818-9802. Richard Preston president. www.sensingstrategies.com

Sensing Strategies develops defense-related remote sensing projects for the Department of Defense as well as for the commercial sector. The company’s principals are Richard Preston and Robert Crow.

Preston holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Princeton University. He has developed a variety of computer models for radiation propagation, mission planning, data exploitation, and sensor exploitation. He has also developed portable collection systems for field use by GIs, including an infrared missile tracker and several novel collections systems.

Stock News At Cedar Brook

Amicus Therapeutics (FOLD), 6 Cedar Brook Drive, Cedar Brook Corporate Center, Cranbury 08512; 609-662-2000; fax, 609-662-2001. John F. Crowley, CEO. Home page: www.amicustherapeutics.com

On March 30 Amicus Therapeutics Inc. filed for an initial public offering on Nasdaq that could be worth more than $86 million. With FOLD as its ticker symbol, it has both Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch as co-lead underwriters.

The five-year-old firm has 52 employees and 32,000 square feet at Cedar Brook Corporate Center. It uses a “chaperone” technology to find new treatments for genetic diseases, particularly Fabry disease.

Valera Pharmaceuticals (Indevus) (VLRX), 7 Clarke Drive, Cedar Brook Corporate Center, Cranbury 08512; 609-409-9010; fax, 609-409-1650. David Tierney, president and CEO. Home page: www.valerapharma.com

Another firm at Cedar Brook Corporate Center, Valera Pharmaceuticals, plans to take its common stock off the Nasdaq exchange.

In December Valera was bought by another public company, Indevus, for about $120 million, and the deal is expected to close next week. Both firms will delist their stocks.

Valera, formerly Hydro Med Sciences, works with topical and implantable drug delivery devices — R&D, manufacture, and distribution. The 35-year-old firm occupies 22,000 square feet.

Of the People, To the People

In effort to bring government closer to its constituents, Mercer County opened an office, titled Mercer County Connection, in a shopping center on Route 33 in Hamilton. Virtually every department has made its information available here, and representatives at each department will staff the office at scheduled times.

Residents can do everything from getting a notary public’s signature to picking up a recycling can. Services include passports, voter registration and absentee ballots, health screenings, wills and probate, public access computers, information on consumer affairs, senior citizen services, community college information, park and recreation programs, public transportation schedules, and emergency management tips.

The 2,100 square foot facility has a small conference room available, for free, for any not-for-profit organization. It will seat 12 people at a table, or 20 people for a workshop, and it comes with flat-screen video and a projection laptop.

“Some county residents can’t get to our downtown offices during the week or during regular business hours, so we are, in effect, bringing the county’s services to them at an ideal location,” said Brian M. Hughes, county executive, in a press release.

The office is open to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Saturdays from 10 to 3 p.m. “You can come home and have dinner and then go out and get your passport,” says Marcy Kleiner, the director. A graduate of George Washington and Temple universities, Kleiner has been a newspaper publisher (the Mercer and Ewing Messengers) and vice president of operations at Lakeview Child Centers, a subsidiary of RWJ Hospital at Hamilton.

“We want everyone who walks in the door, or calls, to feel they have been helped by the county,” says Kleiner.

Mercer County Connection, 957 Route 33, Hamilton 08690; 609-989-8900; fax, 609-890-9861. Marcy Kleiner, director. Home page: www.mercercounty.org

Start-Ups

Jacobs Communications Consulting LLC, 6 Shadwell Court, Princeton Junction 08550-1937; 609-275-9025. Ken Jacobs. Home page: www.jacobscomm.com

Ken Jacobs has opened a consulting business to help public relations firms.

His business development services include growing business from existing clients, upgrading brainstorm session output, winning competitive pitches, enhancing account profitability, designing new business plans, and crafting agency marketing plans.

He will also design complete agency training programs, lead interactive staff training workshops in specific skill areas, and coach individuals and teams.

Jacobs grew up in Yonkers, where his father had a restaurant and his mother worked for IBM, and he graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse school in 1979. His most recent corporate job was as executive vice president at Ogilvy & Mather Public Relations.

“Agencies get where they want to be faster by acting like they’re already there,” says Jacobs. “That means tailored training programs, brainstorms that result in superior output, and strategic new business plans.”

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