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Utah High Tech Firms Showcase Accomplishments - 2002-02-16

The Winter Olympics are underway in Salt Lake City, and Utah's burgeoning high tech industries are showcasing their accomplishments to visitors. Mike O'Sullivan takes a look at two of the state's high tech firms: one designs computer games and the other makes life-saving medical software.

Since 1994, the Saffire Corporation of American Fork, Utah has designed games for Nintendo, Gameboy, and Sony Playstation.

Lead Artist Walter Park is working on a game called "Barbarian." "Once we've got the sketches taken care of, and we've decided on a few core characters, we'll actually start to finish those characters," he says. "We'll paint them. We will do everything we can to render them out so we know what they're going to look like in the game. Now, this is one of the most fun parts for us as artists. We get to get in there, draw anything we can imagine, create any sort of character that we like, and eventually we know it's going to end up on somebody's TV at home."

A company called Voxel in the high tech city of Provo sells medical software that combines data from MRIs and CAT-scans, scanning devices that produce images of the inside of the body. The software creates a three-dimensional holographic image. Dan Burman, the company's president, says "that data is sent to us over the Internet, and we laser-image each of those slices that are created when a patient is scanned, one by one on a piece of film, so that when you take that piece of film and put it on our light box, projected off of the film in 3D [three dimensional] space is an exact replica of the anatomy as it was scanned in the patient."

Mr. Burman says a colleague at Voxel, chief technology officer John Wright, is fighting a family battle with the help of the company's product. Mr. Wright's daughter, Natalie, suffers from a brain tumor.

Natalie is now four. She had her first operation at age two-and-a-half. Mr. Burman says the girl's doctor projected a three-dimensional image of her brain in mid-air, so large that he was able to walk inside it. "In coordination with the University of Utah and their supercomputer, the images were projected on their supercomputer in a manner in which he could put on 3D glasses, and then take a walk up inside of her brain," he says.

Natalie's father, John Wright, says his daughter's doctor has used the company's imaging system on five other patients, in addition to Natalie.

Natalie is not cured yet and she continues to undergo treatment, but her father says the new technique is helping her beat the tumor. "We're still chasing it. She's in chemotherapy. She might have to have surgery again, so we hope technology gets better and better over time," he says.

Local officials say Utah rivals states like California in its software and Internet companies and its biotechnology products. They say the companies come here for the state's low operating costs and educated workforce. The officials hope to attract more high tech firms here during the Olympics.