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Applications range from catching crooks to wound care monitoring

Lextel Corp. commercializing NASA spinoff technology

Jackson — With modern printing technology, it has become easier to produce counterfeit money and documents such as passports. But portable hyperspectral imaging technology developed by NASA-sponsored research programs in Mississippi now being commercialized by Lextel Corp. in Jackson is making it harder for crooks to get away with it.

Lextel Corp., LLC, was formed in 2005 to manufacture, market and sell hyperspectral imaging systems developed by the Institute for Technology Development (ITD). The first three systems were purchased by the FBI. In addition to detecting counterfeit money and documents, the systems can also be used for forensic research, early detection of skin disorders, wound care monitoring, detection of molds and toxins, precision agriculture, ophthalmology and environmental monitoring.

“We have new products that we can sell worldwide that are manufactured here in Mississippi,” said Dr. George May, president/CEO of ITD. “It is a high-tech business line that is going to create new, high-paying jobs within the State of Mississippi. These hyperspectral imaging devices are truly ‘dual-use’ as they support astronaut health and living needs on future NASA missions, and support humans of Earth in terms of health, safety and resource management.”

May said uses for the technology continue to evolve. One application is wound care monitoring. By being able to diagnose third-degree burns more quickly and accurately, doctors can make decisions about skin graphing. The earlier the skin is grafted, the better chances of the operation being successful.

“We are also using it in ophthalmology, getting to the back of the eye and studying eye problems,” May said. “Another big area is food safety looking for molds and biopathogens.”

ITD and Lextel Corp. have signed an agreement that gives Lextel exclusive license to three patents and one trademark held by ITD along with the worldwide rights to build and sell the hyperspectral sensors. The sensors are being marketed and sold by Lextel doing business as Photon Intelligence Systems.

“This is a win-win for the nation and Mississippi as the hyperspectral sensors support NASA’s mission and also Mississippi’s economy through new high technology jobs to market and manufacture the hyperspectral products,” said Charles Doty, CEO of Lextel Corp.

The four Lextel product lines, called Photon Intelligence Systems, consist of a Visible/Near Infrared (VNIR), Fluorescence Visible/Near Infrared (FVNIR), Ultraviolet (UV) and Short-Wave Infrared (SWIR) hyperspectral sensor.

Doty said the UV sensor is the only one of its kind in the world. All four products are built using ITD’s patented Focal Plane Scanner and trademarked HyperVisual Software that has been licensed to Lextel.

Doty said in light of the worldwide concern about security, there is a large potential market for the systems that can be used to detect bioterrorism agents that might be used to contaminate air, water or food.

“We are living in a time when food terror is a concern, as well as the quality of our water supply,” Doty said. “For early warning detection of various contaminants or pathogens, this gives us an advantage using this type of technology that NASA and ITD have been engaged in for many years.

“These portable real time, non-invasive diagnostic sensors provide an advanced imaging solution for the food safety, pharmaceutical, medical, biological and fluorescent markets, as well as being useful for DNA research at crime scenes in a real-time manner. That would help a lot of criminal cases if there was widespread availability.”

Hyperspectral sensors capture a series of images, each measuring the level of reflected energy at a specific wave length.

“Combined these individual images create a cube which contains both spatially and spectrally continuous data,” Doty said. “This technology is captured in three portable desktop sensors, and it capable of capturing imagery in the ultraviolet, visible, near infrared and short-wave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. They sense in a spectral range from 200 to 1700 nanometers that can be divided into customer designed numbers of images ranging from 32 to 1040 nanometers.”

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

Currently, Lextel has 10 employees allocated to the project. “We plan to expand employment as we grow the market,” Doty said. “This is a marvelous opportunity for us to create very high-tech job opportunities in and around the Jackson metropolitan area. Due to the research efforts NASA has employed for many years, we are now able to see the benefits of research being commercialized today. There are tremendous benefits from how we utilize this technology both now and in the future. We are excited to be a part of that. We are doubly satisfied about benefits to the nation as well as the state of Mississippi.”

Doty said Gov. Haley Barbour and the state’s entire congressional delegation has been very supportive of technological initiatives in the state for a long time, especially the work at the Stennis Space Center.

“The governor has really been a supporter of high-tech jobs and jobs as a whole coming to our state,” Doty said.
The hyperspectral sensors were developed to support NASA Earth Science and space exploration programs. For several years the visible/near infrared sensor flew in aircraft to collect imagery for Stennis’ Earth Science applications research.

The sensing range was expanded to ultraviolet and short-wave to support research programs at Stennis and Marshall. Stennis Technology Development and Transfer Office provided research support to develop an imaging device that captures fluorescent and hyperspectral images simultaneously.

In 2005 ITD’s Portable Hyperspectral Imaging System technology was inducted into the U.S. Space Technology Hall of Fame. Only 52 technologies have been inducted over the last 17 years. The Hall of Fame inductees represent space technologies that save lives and improve the quality of life for people.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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