Seattle firm finds demand for compression software

LizardTech a tiny Seattle firm that spun out of the Los Alamos National Laboratory close to four years ago has found that the federal government is taking a keen interest in its new compression software MrSID.

MrSID short for Multiresolution Seamless Image Database allows users to digitally compress huge images such as detailed maps and therefore save time in opening and manipulating the images. Federal organizations interested in the technology include the Library of Congress which in June announced that it would use MrSID to compress digital files created by scanning historic maps. The maps are available on the library's home page (lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/pmhtml/panhome.html).

Company officials are touting MrSID as a tool that can compress images of any size and that offers quality or resolution greater than that offered by a common method of digital compression Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) which the officials said has a slight "blockiness" around the edges of objects in images.

That blockiness will not do when it comes to maps said Gary Fitzpatrick geographic information system specialist at the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. He said JPEG does not offer the detail needed for maps. MrSID compression however works especially well for putting maps on-line said Fitzpatrick who believes agencies may find uses for MrSID besides maps. "I would suspect that this would be useful for other formats " he said.

Beyond the world of maps MrSID also could be used for compressing images such as X-rays allowing military doctors at sea to send high-quality images to specialists onshore for a second opinion. The Defense Department already has shown interest in the telemedicine potential for MrSID and has alerted its on-line constituents (through its Web server www.matmo.org/) of the product's release. "The military has a huge potential application for us " said John "Grizz" Deal LizardTech's director of product development.

Another feature of MrSID is that the compression software allows users to pan over and zoom in or out of digital images. "That really sets it apart from everyone else " said Jim Mauck a cartographer with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) an agency for which LizardTech is developing a proposal for a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA).

The pan and zoom capabilities are available in the Library of Congress' new map site using MrSID. The high-detail panning and zooming abilities help the library achieve its changing role of becoming a resource to all Americans not just those who serve in Congress or who are eminent researchers. "We're so pleased with the quality of the final image that people can actually do research over the Web " Fitzpatrick said.

Better Access to Agencies

LizardTech leaders view the federal government as a potential source of revenue. J.B. Kuppe director of product development at LizardTech said the company is recruiting systems integrators to provide the company with access to federal agencies that have massive digital imagery files they may want to compress to handle more easily.

Kuppe said one of the problems in handling large images is that "it's very difficult to open up in an application or put it on a CD so that someone can use it."

And putting large images on CDs for others to use is something USGS is investigating. At the heart of the matter are thousands of digital orthophoto quadrangles (DOQs) images that have the image qualities of a photograph but the geometric qualities of a maps.

The images can be useful to private-sector interests such as real estate companies. And being able to package less-massive DOQs that are of a higher-quality than a JPEG image may make DOQs more attractive and useful to the public Mauck said.

A DOQ covers on average 9 040 acres and it is not unusual for a DOQ to take up as much as 400M of disk space. But with the 50-to-1 compression MrSID can achieve that file can be squeezed down to a more manageable 8M. The resulting image is not as high-definition as the original image. But LizardTech officials say the difference is barely noticeable to the naked eye in most cases. Behind the compression technology of MrSID is an algorithm that selectively removes or regroups pixels in an image more efficiently.

USGS has acted as a matchmaker of sorts between LizardTech and Microsoft Corp. Microsoft in May signed a CRADA with USGS to look at making detailed images of maps available free to the public via the Internet. LizardTech which has about 15 employees may partner with Microsoft to help accomplish the task Mauck said.

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