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Utah technology used in war reports

System from Evans & Sutherland maps out Iraq for viewers

Saddam Hussein's private playground on the banks of the Tigris River never looked so good.

No traffic, lots of open space and enchanting buildings, all surrounded by a defensive perimeter.

The graphical representation — which ABC News viewers got a glimpse of Thursday afternoon — was in large part made possible by technology produced by Salt Lake-based Evans & Sutherland Computer Corp.

Called Environment Processor, or EP, the technology combines satellite images with reconnaissance aircraft photos and converts them into a graphical three-dimensional landscape, allowing television viewers to have virtual front-row seats in Baghdad as American bombs are dropping.

"What it can do is take images from different sources and composite them together into a single 3-D view that you can fly through, drive through or walk through," said Jim Oyler, president and chief executive officer of Evans & Sutherland. "You take a still photograph and then you put things in it that can be animated and moved."

Burning oil fields and exploding buildings also can be pinpointed with amazing detail, down to about two feet in size, providing an accurate display of structures affected usually within hours, instead of weeks or months.

Through satellite imagery, E&S has been able to model all of Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar.

"We have good imagery of Baghdad," Oyler said. "We're able to piece it together from different sources. You can see the windows in buildings. You can see the wheels on cars."

Originally designed for use in flight simulators to train commercial airline pilots, the visualization technology made its first public showing in December at a trade show in Florida.

"It got a lot of attention," Oyler said. "ABC News heard about it, and they came by and said, 'Could you use this to fly through these areas that could potentially be involved in a war?' "

The answer was yes, and within a few days the system was up and running at ABC's New York studios.

During the past few weeks ABC News has increasingly used the new software, dubbing the images as "Virtual View." After President Bush's speech Monday, anchor Peter Jennings used the system in a special report as part of a virtual fly-over across Iraq.

"It allows the viewer to have a better sense of being there," ABC News spokeswoman Cathie Lavine said. "It's one thing to say, 'I'm on the west side of the river.' It's another thing to be able to focus right in the exact building and see what else is around you and see what's on the other side of the river."

The application has been used by ABC to complement its stories filed from the field.

"We are using a freelance reporter in Baghdad, and when he described to us where he was, we were able to go and show exactly where it was using this technology, which took almost no time at all," Lavine said.

The EP technology took three years to develop and also has been used by the military for strategic visualization, allowing troops to study a city or region prior to engaging in combat.

Most of the world's major airlines use an older version of the technology, called ESIG (Evans & Sutherland Image Generator). About a dozen airlines already are using the EP technology.


E-MAIL: danderton@desnews.com