by Alain Tiquet

Periodically, we’re using this blog to profile some of the companies that participated in NVIDIA’s Emerging Companies Summit (ECS 2009). ECS 2010 will take place Sept. 20 – 23 at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California, during the GPU Technology Conference

We’ve written before about how GPUs are transforming the field of medical imaging. In the case of Paris-based startup UsefulProgress, GPUs are enabling a kind of real-life X-ray vision. From a single scan, UsefulProgress technology can produce a high-definition 3D digital anatomy that reveals the underlying layers of bones, vessels, tissues and muscles in a body. 


The imagery that the UsefulProgress technology produces is stunning. You don’t have to be a medical student to appreciate a detailed 3D fly-through of the human brain or skeletal system (see the UsefulProgress website for examples). Surgeons can use UsefulProgress’s images as a pre-operative dry run, while doctors can employ them for non-invasive diagnostics. Students at the University of Paris Descartes medical school use the technology to study the human body and learn surgical techniques.

At the Emerging Companies Summit, the head of UsefulProgress, Sylvain Ordureau, met with NVIDIA Vice President of Business Development Jeff Herbst to talk about the technology. The proprietary software-hardware solution works with medical imaging technology such as CT, MRI and X-ray. The UsefulProgress solution takes the hundreds of image “slices” produced from such scans and stitches them together into a 3D volume. NVIDIA GPUs and CUDA are used for the image processing as well as the image display. The high resolution (8000×8000 pixels) of the images and large file sizes make this the sort of computational problem ideally suited to parallel processing.


Doctors aren’t the only ones who want a way to peer inside the human body without performing surgery. Archaeologists who work with human mummies have the same need – in many cases their subjects are too fragile to withstand an autopsy. For instance, after scanning an enigmatic mummy at Paris’s Musée de l’Homme, the UsefulProgress technology can create the 3D images within seconds, allowing archaeologists to peer inside the skull cavity of the thousand-year-old subject, discovering clues to its origin and history.

Although medical imaging is its primary use case, UsefulProgress is finding other applications for its 3D volume rendering, including materials scanning, pharmaceutical research and even helping gemologists get a glimpse inside precious stones like diamonds before the stones are cut.