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August 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

NRC has licensed its 3D technologies to nine Canadian firms, which have injected an estimated $50 million annually into the Canadian economy and created more than 300 jobs. The full potential of these technologies is only starting to be felt.

In late 2006, media around the world broadcast surprising information about Leonardo Da Vinci's world famous Mona Lisa portrait. For the first time, unseen details within layers of the painting were visible through the remarkable 3D scanning technologies developed by NRC.

But this wasn't the first time that NRC's 3D technologies have made headlines. For more than ten years, NRC has enjoyed a well-earned reputation as the world's top heritage imaging resource. The Mona Lisa project was just a recent chapter in a growing catalogue of successes that began in the late 1980s for the Visual Information Technology Group, part of the Ottawa-based NRC Institute for Information Technology.

Atelier 3D is NRC's newest software toolset for analyzing complex objects
Atelier 3D is NRC's newest software toolset for analyzing complex objects

Beyond helping curators and conservators who are studying masterpieces in Europe, China, Israel, Canada and the United States, NRC's 3D technologies are also being used by several Canadian companies in the manufacturing, space, forensic and entertainment sectors.

"NRC's strategy is to help Canadian firms use our 3D technologies to increase their competitive edge, especially in the automotive and aerospace sectors," says François Blais, who leads the NRC Visual Information Technology Group. "The industrial opportunities are endless."

Laser camera manufacturers and scanning service bureaus have licensed and adapted different aspects of NRC technologies for their own applications:

  • Neptec Design Group built a laser camera system to inspect the thermal-protection tiles of space shuttles before their re-entry.
  • ShapeGrabber Inc. developed an automated 3D inspection station.
  • Arius3D Inc. developed its own colour laser scanner .
  • Optech Inc. combined NRC's colour projection algorithms with its long-range laser scanner for civil engineering applications .
  • GIE Technologies from Montréal uses NRC technology for road inspections.
  • ShapeQuest Inc. has licensed NRC's ShapeCapture software for use in 3D measurement and modeling applications.

Handling jobs such as quality assurance and in-line inspections for the automotive industry is a natural fit for 3D technologies where manufacturers depend on zero-defect shipments.

"Imagine how efficient the industry could be if it used the latest 3D hardware and software to inspect parts and correct errors to within a few microns during production," Blais adds. "There's no doubt about it – 3D is the way to go!"

Since spinning out from NRC in 1994 with licences for several NRC technologies, Innovmetric has become a world-leader in 3D modeling for the automotive and aerospace sectors. The company has supplied 3D software solutions to industry giants such as Honda, Toyota, Ford, GM, Rolls Royce, NASA, Airbus and Boeing.

Millions of people around the world have seen the magic of these technologies in the movies. XYZ RGB Inc., another NRC licensee, produced spectacular 3D effects in the Lord of the Rings, King Kong and the Matrix sequels, garnering recognition when it was short-listed for an Academy Award for technical accomplishment.

"The organizations that have benefited from our 3D technologies and expertise have provided the impetus for ongoing R&D," says Blais. "Every new potential application is an opportunity to adapt our technologies for other high-value uses."

One of the most astonishing parts of this story is the pace of progress in this field, adds Blais. "It took well over 100 years for the first primitive film camera to evolve into the mass-marketed digital camera of the early 1990s," he says. "Things have moved much faster in 3D. In 15 to 20 years, I expect that 3D technologies will be mass-marketed for use in more applications than we can possibly imagine today."

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