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July 26, 2012 | Tom Ballard

3rd Dimension team optimistic about its holography technology

Entrepreneurs are by their very nature optimistic, and nothing could be more descriptive of the team at Third Dimension Technologies in Knox County’s Fairview Technology Center.

The nine-year old company was started by Tommy Thomas, who had previously founded another local start-up – nLine – that used digital holography to produce high resolution images to find defects in semiconductor chips. After leaving nLine, Thomas continued to explore various opportunities for the holography technology and eventually decided to pursue three dimensional displays, hence the company’s name.

During a recent visit to Third Dimension’s offices, two of the individuals who joined the team in the past few years provided an overview of the technology, showed its new prototype, described the evolution of the start-up, and explained the target markets that the pre-revenue company is exploring.

Thomas, the Chief Technology Officer, was out-of-town, but met with David Page, Chief Software Architect, and Steve Kelley, Director of Software Engineering. Page joined Third Dimension in 2008, and Kelley came on board in 2010.

Page and Kelley said that Third Dimension has been funded by Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, initially from the U.S. Air Force but more recently from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Tommy learned that he needed a prototype to secure a Phase II SBIR grant from NIH,” they explained.

The company’s prototype was developed, but “kept in the closet” for a period of time before being unveiled about a year ago at InfoComm in Orlando, Page said. He also noted that the prototype “was built on existing tools.”

Referred to as an “Angular Slice 3D Display,” the company describes the prototype as a technology that “goes beyond traditional stereo displays and provides a fully immersive 3D user experience.” It says that 3D images can be viewed “without the use of cumbersome glasses or headgear” and that viewers can “move around the display to change perspective and to see around objects in a scene with no dead zones or flipping.”

Kelley demonstrated the prototype, noting that it was a rear projection system, but “there are no technology roadblocks to go from rear to front projection.” He also said that the company can support existing software applications.

Page added that the prototype is “rendering 16 million pixels per frame at 30 frames per second” even though each eye can only see 1.5 million pixels at any particular location.

Since the prototype was unveiled, Page said that the team has traveled 10,000 miles showing it and operated it for 2,000 hours. The numerous demonstrations at events like InfoComm 2011 and the “Geospatial Intelligence Symposium” have been very important to Third Dimension’s long-term strategy.

“We have narrowed our market focus each time as we’ve learned from the discussions,” he said.

Kelley identified three key near-term goals for 3rd Dimension. “We are working to identify markets, to find people who could use the prototype version (Beta sales), and to find strategic partners to develop products,” he explained.

With SBIR funding from both the U.S. Air Force and NIH, military and medical applications are natural target markets.

Page cited the “true holographic-like display to help analysts study geospatial data (various kinds of geographical data such as 3D laser radar (LIDAR)) better” as an important opportunity with the military.

On the medical side, he talked about the opportunity to add 3D visualization to medical tests like CAT scans and MRIs, to improve education by allowing medical students to observe actual surgeries with 3D images, and to open 3D viewing of Da Vinci surgeries to everyone in the operating room, not just the surgeon.

Other potential markets include enhancement of computer games and industries that need enhanced modeling and simulation capability.

“Anybody who has a need for 3D should be a client,” Kelley says.

As far as the evolution of the technology, he says that “we are a technology cycle away from being on someone’s desk.” That translates into no more than five years to convert a roughly seven-foot prototype into a unit like a desktop computer.

For now, Kelley adds that ‘we are looking for customers and partners to help with the engineering.”

More information can be found at

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