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Past Winner
2007 NSERC Doctoral Prize

Dragan Tubić

Electrical Engineering

Université Laval

Dragan Tubić
Dragan Tubić

Three-dimensional modeling has countless applications that range from pure science to entertainment. However, the challenge of processing data collected by scanning an object's intricate curves and angles to create a computer-generated image has traditionally been a time-consuming, laborious process.

Dragan Tubić's doctoral research in electrical engineering, which has earned him a 2007 NSERC Doctoral Prize, has helped make that process faster, easier and cheaper.

Imaging techniques historically involved scanning an object to collect the data, then returning to the lab to process the data. In addition to taking more time, there was no way to know until after the processing was complete whether the data was complete. Filling in any gaps required repeating at least part of the scanning process.

Dr. Tubić's thesis demonstrated a way to use "vector fields" to represent the surface of an object, a breakthrough that greatly simplifies the modeling process by compressing various steps. Vector fields use a 3D grid as a reference and then specify one "vector" (the distance and direction) from each cell in the grid to the closest point on the object. "This works in real time because it lets you find the closest point very quickly, which is the basis of all modeling algorithms," explains Dr. Tubić. He adds that the algorithms he developed are far less complex than previous versions.

3D modeling can be used in such varied areas as pre- and post-treatment documentation of the body when fitting a prosthesis, rapid prototyping in manufacturing, recording forensic evidence, documenting museum collections and creating visual simulations in video games or movies.

Not only have Dr Tubić's discoveries advanced the science of 3D modeling, but they have also been successfully commercialized. Creaform, which is based in Lévis, Québec, has shipped its hand-held Handyscan camera systems that use his 3D image processing system to clients in more than 20 countries.

Both Dr. Tubić and Creaform have won awards for the new technology. Last year, Dr. Tubić was awarded the top prize in NSERC's 2006 Innovation Challenge, which honours the best ideas for commercializing the results of thesis work.

He says the commercial success is consistent with his basic approach to research. "What I was doing in my research was to simply orient it towards some practical goal," he says. "I know that it's well done, that it's something people couldn't do before, so I expected that there would be some success." Still, with more than 250 systems sold to date, he was somewhat surprised by just how successful the system has been.