A new invention that could become the three-dimensional television of the future had its humble beginnings as the senior project of Gregg Favalora, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Yale this May.
Yale and Mr. Favalora have filed a provisional patent for the creation, which also has possible applications in air traffic control, medicine and entertainment. The creation has also earned Mr. Favalora a BF Goodrich Collegiate Inventors award, one of three given nationally to undergraduate students this year. The $1,000 prize will be presented on Sept. 20 in Akron, Ohio, as part of a program highlighting annual induction ceremonies for the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Mr. Favalora's faculty adviser, adjunct professor Peter J. Kindlmann, will be awarded $500.
With mirrors, lasers and lenses, Mr. Favalora can project computer images onto a spinning display screen that can be viewed by many people simultaneously from all angles. His prototype can illuminate up to 32,768 light points using just a standard personal computer, enabling him to create three-dimensional images of the cartoon character Homer Simpson, geometric shapes and, of course, a "Y" representing Yale.
However, the method can be expanded to thousands more light points and adapted to show full-colored, animated images such as beating hearts to aid in diagnostic procedures, images of airplanes approaching for landing not just dots on a screen, simulated or actual military battles, architectural drawings, or action figures in interactive games, he says.
The invention, which is on display in Becton Engineering Center near elevators adjacent to Davies Auditorium, was constructed with a $2,000 grant from the Yale engineering fund for senior projects and refined over the summer with the help of a second $2,000 research grant, also from Yale. A timer will activate the display periodically so viewers can see it in operation.
"The components are relatively simple and inexpensive, but I put them together in a unique way that doesn't require goggles or viewing devices, and is nothing like the technology for making holograms," explains Mr. Favalora, who will begin graduate studies in engineering this fall at Harvard University. He has been working on three-dimensional displays for eight years, starting in high school with a science fair project, but the major breakthroughs in his current design came last fall when he began work on his senior project.
Although his device is protected by a provisional patent application, he has been advised by the Yale Office of Cooperative Research OCR not to reveal some of the design details -- especially the latest refinements -- while Yale seeks venture capital or corporate sponsorship. "This is the most promising undergraduate invention I have seen, and its commercial potentials are far- reaching," says Henry Lowendorf of the OCR office. Yale has until next spring to file for a full patent and would share royalties with Mr. Favalora, he adds.
"The work is extremely high-quality and innovative," says Mr. Lowendorf. "It shouldn't be seen as just a senior project; it certainly reflects the best research standards at Yale."
Similar inventions by major companies either require expensive computers to operate, can be viewed by only one person at a time or produce images of extremely low-resolution. Mr. Favalora believes his invention can create better images in part because his device provides a higher ratio of light points in use at any given time to the total number of available light points.
The 22-year-old native of West Orange, New Jersey -- who likes to point out that the famous inventor Thomas Edison worked and lived in his hometown -- said his success was made possible by the suggestions he got from his adviser and several other Yale professors, as well as ideas he gathered from unclassified military information on 3-D imaging available on the Internet.
Mr. Favalora's many accomplishments at Yale included receiving the Belle and Carl Morse Scholarship, a Yale engineering award that recognizes individuals for outstanding scholarship and leadership in extracurricular engineering activities. He was president of the Yale chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering sciences honor society. His 3-D imaging work also earned him the Edward Lamphier Memorial Prize "for outstanding contributions to electricity and its applications."
He also chaired the Yale student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, where he helped triple membership and organize a successful lecture series that brought leading engineers to the campus. He also received a scholarship for academic and extracurricular activity from his fraternity, Sigma Chi; initiated a fundraising event for beginning electronics kits to introduce nonscience majors to electrical engineering principles; and initiated an annual faculty award program for outstanding contributions to electrical engineering at Yale.