MIT has granted an exclusive option to license wavelet-based image compression software and patent rights to Prima Facie, Inc. The agreement allows Prima Facie, of Conshohocken, PA, to commercialize the technology for use in the field of security and video surveillance.
"Prima Facie has demonstrated the willingness and ability to commercialize this important new method of image compression," said Alex Laats, MIT's technology licensing officer for the agreement. "We think Prima Facie's products are an excellent platform for commercialization of this technology." The company designs, manufactures and sells proprietary all-digital video and sensor recording devices for security applications.
Compression technology is necessary for delivery of digital information. To deliver an image over a network very quickly, the communication channel must either be sufficiently large or the information must be packed into a small enough package. Currently the communications channels for digital information are much too small for the typical digital image file. This problem is typically referred to as lack of bandwidth. Compression technologies address this issue by reducing the amount of information that must be transmitted to recreate the desired data.
But today's "standard" compression algorithms-called Joint Photographic Expert Group (JPEG) for still images and Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG) for video-are not capable of achieving high enough compression ratios without significant loss of quality.
Among data-compression experts, new technologies based on an area of mathematics known as wavelet theory are increasingly being considered the most promising new approach to image or video compression. Wavelet-based technologies represent a significant improvement over JPEG and MPEG in terms of their ability to pack tremendous amounts of data into tiny volumes without overburdening a computer's central processing unit.
"We were unable to achieve the higher compression ratios to meet storage and bandwidth requirements and still maintain forensic integrity with conventional methods," said Ken Tait, Prima Facie's vice president of research and development. "Wavelet compression allows us to maximize storage and bandwidth and maintain a level of image fidelity that should meet courtroom standards."
The MIT wavelet-based software has added to the power of wavelets because it allows use of wavelets on finite-length data without introducing artifacts. This makes it possible to break down an image into smaller blocks for more efficient wavelet processing while preserving image quality.
The software was developed by Associate Professor John R. Williams of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Kevin S. Amaratunga. Dr. Amaratunga received his PhD from MIT last month for the work. Professor Williams is also affiliated with MIT's Intelligent Engineering Systems Laboratory.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 24, 1996.