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David Taubman

Professor Taubman has developed image compression software that is used by more than 300 companies, including Sony, HBO and Disney.

UNSW software used by more than 300 companies, including Sony, HBO and Disney, is fundamentally changing the way we interact with cinema and visual content.

As most people know, sharing large files by email can be tricky. This is usually because the file size exceeds the data limit of the mail server. Transferring data also poses a considerable problem for the film industry, which trades in massive, multi-gigabyte files of visual information.

Film production companies need a way to compress, encrypt and decode digital files so they can be shared for editing and distributed to cinemas for release. Around the beginning of the twenty-first century, a new multimedia compression standard called JPEG 2000 was developed to replace the more familiar JPEG.

This new standard has enabled greater interactivity with images and video, allowing users to isolate, analyse and transmit very specific portions of the media’s content. Although JPEG 2000 has not become the default standard used by consumers, as was originally envisioned, its flexibility has made it an attractive option for a range of markets and specialist applications, including digital cinema.

Professor David Taubman from UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications developed core algorithms that are central to JPEG 2000, and not long after, created the software development toolkit known as Kakadu.

Named after a national park in Australia’s Northern Territory, Taubman wrote the code for Kakadu in just six weeks because he wanted to include the software with a book he was co-authoring on image compression.

It has since evolved and grown to more than half a million lines of code and “has become the dominant implementation of the JPEG 2000 standard”, he says. “Over its life span we have sold more than 250 commercial licences.”

In the era of big data and multimedia communication, Taubman’s software has become a valuable tool for companies such as Dolby Laboratories, HBO, Sony and Disney. But it’s doing more than helping the film industry adapt to new technology.

Kakadu is enabling doctors to share and better analyse medical imagery; is helping security companies conduct surveillance activities with unprecedented clarity, by interacting with CCTV footage in new and dynamic ways; and has given rise to a citizen science project using images from the Mars Rover Curiosity. “This is because JPEG 2000 provides all the flexibility that JPEG can’t,” says Taubman. “It provides the capabilities you need for scientific, medical, geospatial and military applications.”

JPEG 2000 has become the de facto standard for media and video archiving around the world, which means Kakadu is also helping to ensure our digital heritage is kept safe for future generations.

 "The Kakadu developer toolkit has enabled us to integrate robust JPEG 2000 video format support into our media transformation solutions ... meeting the requirements of our top-tier media and entertainment, and archive customers."

Darren Gallipeau, Product Manager at Canadian media technology company Digital Rapids