Visual computing keeps gathering steam, if Nvidia‘s upcoming conference on the matter is any indication.

Visual computing makes use of a graphics chip (graphics processing unit, or GPU) to create cool imagery on a screen. GPU computing is the use of the computational power of a graphics chip for non-graphics applications, ranging from medical imaging to video encoding. Nvidia will highlight visual computing at its third annual Emerging Companies Summit, which is part of its GPU Technology Conference taking place Sept. 21 to 23 in San Jose, Calif. Some 60 startups will compete to present on stage at the event.

The companies hail from categories including robotics, computer vision, real-time face recognition, real-time medical imaging, hyper-realistic virtual worlds, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, said Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development at Nvidia, the world’s biggest maker of stand-alone graphics chips for computers.

“Our goal is to fuel the growth of the ecosystem for GPU computing,” Herbst said in an interview. “Our hope is that we’ll see a billion dollar company emerge in this ecosystem.”

Participating companies include: Cooliris, Milabra, Mirriad, NaturalMotion, OptiTex, Universal Robotics, and Useful Progress. Mirriad appeared at last year’s summit and has since received a round of funding. The partial list is here. The entrepreneurs will mingle with executives from Adobe, Cisco, Google and Microsoft, as well as members of investment firms including Charles River Ventures, Interwest, Morgenthaler Ventures and Sutter Hill. Nvidia makes a few investments a year, but most of its work is in facilitating investments made by others. Presenters will be eligible for prizes including free legal advice.

Among the presenters is Useful Progress, a Paris-based startup focused on medical imaging. The company uses Nvidia graphics chips and its CUDA programming environment to create videos that seem to “fly through” human organs, like a scene from the movie Fantastic Voyage. The technology can help physicians diagnose and repair anomalies in the brain and heart. See a video sample below.

Another participant is OptiTex, (pictured at top) which makes 3D visualization software for fashion-related industries. Using Optitex, consumers can dress a virtual mannequin similar to their body style to see how they would look in various apparel options. The Optitex technology lets designers show off virtual dresses that sway and hug the body the way that real dresses do.

Universal Robotics (pictured, right) will also show off robots that learn, react and adapt to their surroundings. The aim is to get them to perform tasks that are costly, dangerous or difficult for humans to undertake. The company’s Neocortex technology was developed over seven years at NASA and Vanderbilt University. The aim is to increase worker efficiency and safety in industries such as warehousing, mining, handling hazardous waste, and automated vehicles. The company’s first application is in putting boxes on or taking boxes off of warehouse pallets.