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|80.3 - Spring 2007|
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> Spring 2007 > Where are they now?
Greg Favalora SY ’96 - Senior project turned startup
By Sydney Levine
Gregg Favalora, SY ’96, is the founder and chief technical officer of Actuality Systems, a company that is innovating the way the world thinks about 3D. The hallmark of the company is a system called “Perspecta,” which looks like a cross between an animated hologram and a computer-controlled crystal ball, generating large volume-filling 3D images visible with the unaided eye.
Some of the world’s largest oil companies are interested in Actuality to help them analyze seismic data in their search for oil and natural gas. NASA and the United Sates Military are also clients of Actuality, hoping to use the system for simulation and command and control.
Most notably, hospitals nation-wide are beginning to test Perspecta to create and verify radiation treatment plans, a therapy received by most cancer patients. Basically, Favalora’s company is making us richer, keeping us safer, and saving our lives.
It all started here at Yale: Favalora was an electrical engineering major and for his senior project created a three dimensional projection system. The system exploited the persistence of human vision by projecting one-dimensional images very quickly onto a rotating screen so that a viewer’s eyes perceived an aggregate 3D image.
By the time May camearrived, he could project a checkerboard of dots in the air. But no one seemed particularly impressed other than his advisor, Prof. Peter Kindlmann, and department Chair and financial patron, Prof. Mark Reed.
Regardless, Favalora knew he was on to something. He decided to stay in New Haven the following summer and request additional funding to construct what he called “The Cadillac of 3D displays.” By the end of the summer his projector was displaying 3D images of Homer Simpon’s head, an air-traffic scene, and the letter “Y.” This got the attention of a few more people; Favalora earned a patent for his invention.
After his graduation in 1996, Favalora enrolled in graduate school at Harvard to continue his studies of electrical engineering. He soon left the school with hopes of starting up his own company based on the 3D technology he was constructing in his basement – and because “everything Yalies say about Harvard turned out to be actually true!”
What followed was a three-year search for investors who were willing to take a chance on the young engineer. Unfortunately for Favalora, 1997 was the height of the dot-com boom. Investors were pumping huge amounts of money into the craziest of dot com ventures (“There was even a barbeque sauce portal that found investors!”) and no one was interested in his work with three dimensional images that could potentially help surgeons operate on cancer patients. Meanwhile, his parents were buying him groceries, and his team of engineers was living off McDonald’s Bag of Burgers special – six for $3. Things looked bleak.
But by clinging to the motto “persist like you’re insane” and with a little bit of luck, things began to turn around. Through the MIT entrepreneurial club, Favalora had a chance to meet Po Bronson, a journalist who was widely known for chronicling the happenings of Silicon Valley.
After the meeting, Favalora invited Bronson to see the 3D protector prototype in his basement. As Bronson watched an image of the HIV virus rotating in space, he knew someone needed to take notice of this. In August 1999, Bronson wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal on Favalora’s invention and his difficulty finding funding. Soon, Favalora had so many offers that he had to turn investors away.
Today, Actuality Systems is focusing on making vast improvements in the way radiation oncology is carried out. Radiation oncology involves aiming radiation beams at cancerous tissue in such a way that healthy tissue is not hit by the beams.
To make the planning of this process easier, the Perspecta system creates a 3D image of the affected area that is generated from the patient’s 2D CAT scans. The physician who is determining the treatment plan for the patient can manipulate light beams on the display until he or she finds the best path for the radiation.
According to the results of clinical trials that compare the Perspecta system to conventional 2D systems for planning treatment with radiation, the Perspecta system’s plans are superior at least 57% of the time1.
While it’s true that not every senior project can turn into a successful start-up company, Favalora implores those in the electrical engineering major to embrace the opportunity to do a design project and to apply a “ridiculous amount of persistence to it.” After all, he muses, “there’s nothing like the feeling of having made this thing that no one else in the world has ever made before.”
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