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Start-up adds depth to 3D imaging

Canesta develops a chip and software that use light beams as radar uses radio waves, enabling machines to do something that humans take for granted: get a sense of depth.

Start-up Canesta has developed a chip and software that enable machines to do something that humans take for granted: get a sense of depth.

The San Jose, Calif., company on Monday unveiled the new, low-cost method for 3D imaging at the PC Forum tech conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Machines can't see in 3D, but we've developed a technology that allows them to do that and use that information in real time," said Nazim Kareemi, Canesta's president and chief executive.

Canesta's technology works like a radar system, but using nonvisible light rather than radio waves. A computer with the company's chip would emit the light, which would bounce off objects in front of it, and the chip would measure the time it takes for the light to return. The software then would record that information, allowing machines to perceive, react and interact with the environment around them, the company said.

Canesta is planning to outsource manufacturing of the chip, which should be available in the third quarter. The start-up is working with mobile and wireless device companies to use the 3D imaging technology in devices due at the beginning of next year.

One possible use is a full-sized but virtual keyboard that a device could project. This would be address one of the biggest difficulties for handheld or cell phone owners: inputting data.

The chip and software will cost device manufacturers around $10 to use in their products, said James Spare, Canesta's vice president of marketing.

Canesta's plans include products for the automotive market, which the company intends to address in 2006.

The company was awarded a patent in November for 3D imaging sensors and has raised about $20 million. Carlyle Venture Partners, Apax Partners, JP Morgan Partners, TechFund Capital and Thales Corporate Ventures were involved in Canesta's funding.