Many of the original development team still work for ARANZ Geo, all adding their substantial knowledge and experience to the mix. Many joined as students in the early days to advance the RBF mathematics and software that is Leapfrog’s engine, FastRBF™. ARANZ Geo founder, Rick Fright describes it as a ‘blend of expertise’ and a ‘combination of experts all at the top of their game’, many in between working at University College London or Cambridge University. Fundamentally the common theme was that they were Kiwi’s, many friends from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
In 2004, following successful testing and use of the initial product by SRK Consulting, ARANZ Geo was formed to begin the marketing and further development of the product to the mining industry. Leapfrog Mining was born.
But in the early days Leapfrog® struggled to be accepted. Says Rick Fright, “People didn’t take it seriously because it was just too fast! And it was too isotropic, it didn’t take into account folding strata.”
In 1999 work began on new surfacing algorithms so that an RBF implicit model could be utilised by conventional computer graphics packages. This meant converting an implicit RBF model into meshes of triangles and piecewise continuous spline surfaces.
The main difference between traditional RBF’s and what became ARANZ’s FastRBF™ is the ability to deal with large datasets of well over 1,000,000 points on ordinary computing hardware incredibly quickly. The maths used to speed up the calculation was initially used in particle physics. Filtering and approximation methods make Fast RBF™ ideal for visualising and processing non-uniformly sampled noisy data. FastRBF™ has extraordinary extrapolation capabilities, even when large gaps occur in a data set.
In 1996 in pursuit of more mathematically robust meshes ARANZ rekindled their close collaboration with mathematician Rick Beatson. This motivated the extension of his fast RBF methods to modelling full 3D data and a new way of describing the surfaces of objects implicitly using a ‘signed-distance’ function.
Says ARANZ Geo founder Rick Fright, “Having got the scanner working, and gathered scattered point measurements from the surface of a 3D object, we realised we had an even bigger problem of reconstructing a complete and continuous surface model. So we got back in touch with Rick Beatson.”
Leapfrog in Medicine, Movies and Outer Space
This is the second history blog in a six part series. If you missed part one, In the beginning, you can find it here.
In 1995, the success of the 3D ultrasound and laser scanning research prompted Rick Fright to start Applied Research Associates Ltd (ARANZ) along with friend and former fellow student Bruce McCallum (Electrical Eng.), Mark Nixon (medical doctor) and Brent Price (from Med Physics). Together they hit on the idea of a hand-held portable laser scanner, which allowed almost any solid object’s surface to be acquired and represented, initially, as a mesh of triangles.
These meshes were adequate for many applications, including the movie industry, where the scanner was very successful in computer animation and utilised in numerous films from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the Star Wars prequels.
Leapfrog are excited to post for you a series of six blogs that map our company’s progress. To start off the first blog, Carrie Beckwith, talks to Rick Fright about how Leapfrog® came about – in the beginning.
The story Rick’s telling includes engineers, mathematicians, geologists and computer science graduates, which he describes as a ‘unique blend of expertise’, many friends from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and many still actively involved in taking the product forward. I’m marvelling at the man-hours Leapfrog’s development must have accrued and the ‘ground breaking’ that went on to create the intuitive modelling tool geologists rely on today. Our conversation is unearthing a passion and excitement for developing new technology through research.
But how did this software first come about? How did something initially from the medical industry end up being so successful in mining?
In the beginning – titanium cranioplasty
Rick takes me back to 1991 and the Medical Physics & Bioengineering department of Canterbury Hospital in Christchurch New Zealand. Rick was working on a Wellcome Trust research grant to automate the design and production of titanium plates for neurosurgeons. Rick had heard about the work of another Rick (Beatson) a mathematician from the nearby University of Canterbury’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, who’d developed new fast 2D methods using radial basis functions. At this time, Engineering Ph.D. student Jonathan Carr also became involved and the three set about solving the cranioplasty problem. Together they produced mathematics and software to interpolate the shape of the skull across the void of the missing area. This is basically the same way Leapfrog models topographies today.