Using text to visually search within Google

Photo courtesy of Google
Photo courtesy of Google

Google has undergone a number of changes in recent months, including but not limited to, the shutting down of some services but the launch of others. And while the end of Google Reader was announced in an effort to drive more users to Google+, that service has also seen some new features.

One of these features allows users who are logged in to search within their own albums on Google using Google Search. This kind of technology relies on Computer Vision algorithms to identify people, places, and things more easily, even if they haven’t been properly sorted or identified. The goal is to aid in visual searches through the use of phrases such as “my photos of cats” or “my photos of flowers,” etc. And as is often the case with Computer Vision and machine learning, the more photos you have, the better the technology is often able to refine itself over time.

What are your thoughts on this feature? Does it sound like something you would use?

Robots discovering objects through Computer Vision

herbrobotWhile having a personal robot ala Judy in the television show, the Jetson’s, may have been the dream of every child, now such a thing is closer to becoming a reality.

Meet HERB, a Home-Exploring Robot Butler created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, as part of the Lifelong Robotic Object Discovery.

The robot, which is armed with a Kinect camera and relies on computer vision, has programming that includes a memory loaded with digital models and images of objects to aid in recognition. The goal is to create a robot that not only recognizes what it has already been taught, but grows that information on its own, without the database being expanded manually. It does this not only through simply seeing things, but also by exploring the environment and interacting with objects in it.

The Kinect camera helps to aid HERB in three-dimensional recognition, while the location of an object is also telling. Additionally, HERB can distinguish between items that move and those that don’t. As it interacts with its environment, it eventually is able to determine if something is an object, meaning if something can be lifted.

This information can later lead to robots that do things for humans, such as bringing them items or helping to clean. And while there is still a ways to go, the possibilities seem to be endless.

Makeup can mask facial recognition

004795_10_fig2As advancements in facial recognition are made, many people have become increasingly worried about protecting or maintaining their privacy. And while there are ways to hide or obscure a face, it has been thought by many that makeup wasn’t enough to fool that cameras.

However, researchers in Michigan and West Virginia have set out to disprove such an idea, demonstrating how makeup actually can change the appearance of an individual. While the way someone’s head is held, the expressions he or she may make, and the lighting don’t confuse computers, things such as natural aging or face-altering methods like plastic surgery can. Now, makeup can be added to the list.

This is because makeup can change the shape and texture of a face, by playing natural contours of the face up or down, changing the appearance of the quality and size of certain features, and even camouflaging identifying marks, including scars, birth marks, moles, or tattoos. Of course not a simple application of makeup is enough to do the rick, but heavy layers of makeup can be.

To find out more about this study and its aims, refer to an article on the subject that describes it in further detail.

Computer vision system saves drowning man

800px-Cairns_LagoonWhile there is a lot of talk about the ways computer vision can save lives, in some instances, it is already doing just that.

Last month, a computer vision drowning detection system, known as Poseidon, saved a man in Australia from drowning after an epileptic seizure caused him to sink to the bottom of a pool.

And he wasn’t the first, either. In total, 25 people were saved as a result of this system being implemented in pools.

Currently, Poseidon is in more than 220 pools across America, Europe, Japan, and now Australia.

According to the company, “the Poseidon system is based on a network of overhead or underwater cameras connected to a computer equipped with the Poseidon software [that] analyzes the trajectories of the swimmers and sends an alert to lifegards when a swimmer is in trouble.”

Scramble Face service geared toward Internet users looking to protect their online presence

In a world with new computer vision-related software being introduced regularly, it’s no surprise that many consumers feel as though there is nothing they can do to protect themselves against an unwanted invasion of privacy.

However, just as companies come out with new facial recognition technology and algorithm-based programs, there are other companies that are helping customers gain a bit more control over how much of a presence they have on the web.

One example is VersusMedia, a Los Angeles-based company which launched Scramble Face in March, with a product targeted toward users wanting to locate and remove pictures of themselves that have been posted or indexed across the internet.

The premise is that in a world where potential employers and educators research applicants ahead of time, users should have some control over the content that appears on the Internet, be it something they posted or something that someone else uploaded.

Users who register with Scramble Face will upload pictures, and then pay for a 90-day period. During this time, the program continually scans the Internet for photos matching the individual, and provides a website name and number of pictures matched on each particular site.

What remains to be seen is whether the site helps with the removal process of identified photos, or simply makes users aware of images that exist, leaving them to deal with it on their own.

Accessing apps with facial recognition.

fastaccess-anywhereInternet privacy and security are important issues for just about everyone, and although creating strong passwords is a step toward keeping outsiders out of online accounts, they can still be hacked.

Companies like Sensible Vision are aware of this and have taken steps to make users feel safer. FastAccess Anywhere is the company’s newest app, available for Apple products and Androids. It relies on facial recognition technology as a replacement for passwords, logging users into sites and applications by recognizing their faces.

The idea was born out of the acknowledgement that not only is it difficult to remember passwords to various accounts, but also in recognition of how it’s not entirely easy to type in passwords on small touch screens.

In addition to facial recognition, the app also includes a “secret shape” that is chosen by the user, and used as a means of two-step verification. Users of Android devices are able to set permissions for apps of their choice so that privacy in email, banking, and social media is preserved, while gaming is still accessible by other uses the phone or device.

Image recognition used with Instagram, other social media sites

starbucksInstagram users threw a fit late last year when the popular photo app announced its new terms of services, many which users felt were a violation of privacy.

The main thing users took issue with was the ownership of photos, that is, if Instagram is allowed to take photos from its users and re-appropriate them as the company sees fit.

But what many people don’t realize is that their photos are already being used in the marketing and advertising worlds. Just consider gazeMetrix, a startup that uses computer vision and machine learning when sorting through photos on social media platforms, in order to recognize brand logos and trademarks being photographed.

In finding the use and appearance of these logos, companies are then able to promote their brands more effectively by targeting ads to the proper markets, see how these items are being used, and communicate to users of their specific products.

An article on Forbes.com provides examples of the many ways this data can be used. What are some other potential uses?

Facial recognition aids immigration crackdown in Australia

Image courtesy of australiantest.com
Image courtesy of australiantest.com

Illegal workers seem to be a given in various industries around the world, but now Australia has begun cracking own on those looking to exploit the system. How? With computer vision, of course.

Immigration officials in the land down under are using facial recognition software to identify people who have either created new identities or stolen those of legitimate persons in order to obtain employment.

In a recent raid on farm workers, six illegal persons were detained for over-staying their visas and working. This kind of capture not only causes problems for the illegal person, but also for the employers, who can be charges up to $66,000 for each illegal worker. Specific detail about what kind of programs are being used was not provided, but could entail collaborating with state and federal agency databases in Australia and abroad.

 

Computer vision algorithm helps identify tumors

Image courtesy of Berkeley Labs
Image courtesy of Berkeley Labs

Add cancer to the list of medical problems computer vision can be used in diagnosing and treating.

At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, researchers have created a program that analyzes images of tumors (of which there are thousands, stored in the database of The Cancer Genome Atlas project). This program relies on an algorithm that sorts through image sets and helps identify tumor subtypes – a process which is not so easy considering no two tumors are alike.

After sorting through the images, it categorizes them according to subtype and composition of organizational structure, and then matches those things up with clinical data that give an idea of how a patient affected with a certain tumor will react to treatment.

For more on what this program can do and how it can be used, see the press release here.

 

Computer vision “textbook” for high school students

Computer Vision can seem like a daunting field to those not familiar with it. However, the University of Canterbury in New Zealand has created an online, interactive “textbook” geared at teaching high school students more about this creative, emerging field.

Just watch this video to see how easy explaining Computer Vision can be and how applicable it is in our everyday lives.

Computer Science Field Guide: Computer Vision from Tim Bell on Vimeo.