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An Executive Interview with Carsten Heiermann, CEO, LuraTech on JPEG 2000

Thursday, December 30th 2004
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Summary:

LuraTech was founded in 1997 and is headquartered in Germany with offices throughout Europe and the U.S.The company is a developer of JPEG2000 implementations and technology for the color compression of images, data and scanned documents.Editor-in-Chief, Joe Francica, interviewed Carsten Heiermann, CEO of LuraTech, to get a better understanding of the company’s products and technology.


LuraTech was founded in 1997 and is headquartered in Germany with offices throughout Europe and the U.S.The company is a developer of JPEG2000 implementations and technology for the color compression of images, data and scanned documents.Editor-in-Chief, Joe Francica (JF), interviewed Carsten Heiermann (CH), CEO of LuraTech, to get a better understanding of the company's products and technology.

JF: Can you give me some background on LuraTech's development with the JPEG 2000 standard?

CH: When we started to write and define the standard, we were already an ISO member, as well as a member of the JPEG group working with the JPEG standard.We also helped author some of the parts of JPEG 2000, and our head of R&D, Dr.Klaus Jung, is actually the HOD (head of the delegation) for Germany in that standardization.So, what you see is that we are really in this space with several different areas of application since we have different JPEG 2000 products.We have components, software parts, viewers, and everything from the companies that you mentioned (ER Mapper, LizardTech).We follow not only the JPEG 2000 first part, the 'Part 1' standard, but we also support JPEG 2000 'Part 6', which is a compression standard especially suited for documents.In the "geo" area, this 'Part 6' variant of JPEG 2000 is used for compression of scanned maps, such as at the California DOT (Department of Transportation).

So, there are two lines of products, which are related to these two parts of the JPEG 2000 standard.
There is LuraWave.JP2 - this is the compression scheme supported by our products and SDKs for JPEG 2000 part 1; and there is LuraDocument.JPM, (JPM is the file extension for JPEG 2000 part 6), which is all the components that you need to support JPEG 2000 part 6 inside your application.

JF: Specific to applications, you mentioned the California DOT. Are they working with the product in a way just to scan maps, integrating it with some of their viewing technology for GIS, or strictly for getting their maps into a digital format?

CH: The two lines of products have two different areas of application.The LuraWave product is really suitable for all kinds of satellite and aerial images.The LuraDocument.JPM is really used for compressing scanned maps; let's say raster graphics.You know that not everybody has a complete or fully integrated GIS, and even the California DOT does not have a fully integrated GIS where everything is already available, really, as geospatial data.They still have a high volume of older maps using this as a basic layer in their GIS.

JF: So, please educate me on how the LuraDocument product would be able to handle geographic coordinate information?

CH: The LuraDocument usage in the "geo" area is a little bit special, and it's only used for, let's say, 'legacy' paper maps, to digitize them, and use them somehow in a special database.If you are talking about integration, and coordinates and all the GIS additional functions, these are handled with our LuraWave product.If you have a satellite image layer inside a GIS system, this is used together with GIS information by the integration of GML data with JPEG 2000.We have a full integration between the GML data and the JPEG 2000 standard.In 2003, our head of R&D was allowed by the JPEG committee to propose a new part of the standard of how to integrate GML data into JPEG 2000 files.What we did this year at the ongoing OGC meetings was to try to make the OGC guys define a subset of the high volume complex GML standards; a subset of data, in terms of coordinates, which would be used to integrate that into JPEG 2000 files directly.Our product already supports that kind of subset.There are currently four of those subsets proposed, and we are on the way to getting a single specification.Our product currently supports all four suggestions for GML subsets to be integrated into JPEG 2000 files, so that the customer really has a full integration between GIS information on the one hand and images on the other hand.

JF: So the integration occurs using GML?

CH - Yes.The JPEG 2000 is used more and more as a standard in the geo industry.ESRI took a decision some time ago to support JPEG 2000 in their product.So, that was the first indication that GIS was using JPEG 2000 for display (applications).This is really a relevant standard with all the relevant products.

JF: Can you explain how LuraTech first approached the geospatial market? I am curious how you approached it initially.

CH: From our headquarters in Berlin, we decided to first change our proprietary product.We had at that time a proprietary compression scheme comparable to others.But we first said that we wanted to go through the standardization process and then broaden our range of offerings.So, what we did was not to approach the U.S.market with a marketing campaign, and try to sell proprietary software, but first go through the standardization process, and only afterwards approach the U.S.market as we had done in our own market.We have a lot of customers in the geoinformation area market in Europe, like the European Union Satellite Center and the military.We sell to ESA, the European Space Agency.For quite some time, we sell our products to companies like Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems.We have now prepared our software and components to make them easy to integrate; it is open standard and we are now prepared to sell it to a broader range.

There is a now a trend to change from proprietary systems like MrSID and ECW and so on.There seems to be a trend among the customers in the GI (geographic information) industry that they are now looking to make the switch to open standards and to go to a JPEG 2000 solution.It seems like the right time to be offering open standards software and go to market now.

JF: There has been a great deal of controversy with respect to MrSID and ECW and the lawsuits file by LizardTech against ERMapper.I am sure you have heard about this.We are just trying to inform our readers, objectively, about this situation.Do you have a comment on this?

CH: What it means to the industry? Yes.I am not the right person to discuss the specifics of patents or litigation and so on.But, there is a general feeling in the market that the litigation from LizardTech against ER Mapper does not have a real chance. However, I'm not a lawyer, certainly not a U.S.lawyer, but the general feeling that it does not really present an issue for ER Mapper, does not really present an issue for JPEG 2000.The initial ruling was already against LizardTech; there was already a decision.OK, they are appealing it now, but I would follow the general view that it's a little bit about nothing.I don't think that JPEG 2000 or ER Mapper is in danger.

JF: JPEG 2000 is an enormous benefit to customers because of the ability to display large volumes of data in a compressed format yet maintaining the resolution.Do you think this will translate into sales of remotely sensed data to a market that perhaps is untapped?

CH: At least JPEG 2000 is an enabling technology for that.Thinking about the use of satellite images for different uses, and JPEG 2000 is really the technology you need to be able to transport images to get an overview of really huge images or it would not be possible at all.Content owners of satellite images are thinking about selling or marketing their product to a broader audience.Now it is possible.To get a 3 or 4 gigabyte image in JPEG 2000 on your file server and to open it in your browser with a normal DSL connection, it will take you less than a second to see an overview of that image.And then it will take you less than one second to zoom in to 100% zoom to see just two or three pixels in that overview size of that image.So you see it is an enabling technology.

JF: So will businesses use this technology in the future.

CH: This is the question of the questions! It is still driven by the government market but we are a technology provider, and we are providing a component to GIS systems.Our customers are still the long-term GI users.

JF: Thanks so much for your time.


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