Los Angeles Business Journal

From Mars to Earth

Imagin’Labs looks to turn tech for NASA into construction jobs By Adam Popescu Monday, June 4, 2012

Technology from a Caltech spinoff last year allowed NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to capture pictures showing that sand dune movement on the red planet’s surface is similar to what happens on Earth.

Imagin’Labs has adopted that imaging technology to measure sand and soil displacement on Earth. And as a result of its work for NASA, the company has managed to get international contracts.

Studying desert sand drifts on Earth can provide vital information to oil pipelines, for example, because there’s only so much sand that pipelines can safely be buried under. And understanding fault line movement can pinpoint the best places for a road or rail tracks to cross.

The company was launched a year ago by Sebastien Leprince and Francois Ayoub. It is based on the Pasadena university’s campus and has four employees.

The two said their imaging technology can help recovery from an earthquake by providing information on the best places to rebuild and the best places to avoid.

“In case of an earthquake, we could have a very (quick) response,” Leprince said.

One of Imagin’Labs’ first contracts was in December, with the New Zealand Geological Survey. The company examined ground deformation created by three major earthquakes that struck the island’s Christchurch region in 2011. The company used subpixel analysis to help map fault lines more precisely so the country could avoid trouble-prone areas in the recovery.

The cost of image acquisition and processing ranges from $10,000 to the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Imagin’Labs would not disclose the value of the New Zealand contract.

Imagin’Labs is also contracting with companies in North Africa and the Middle East, studying desert landscapes to determine how much sand is likely to move across proposed pipeline routes before construction. The company uses that information to develop a map to avoid large quantities of sand buildup on pipes.

“For each dune, we measure migration for (each) meter per year,” Ayoub said.