Archive for December, 2008

Posts of the Year

As I make arrangements to close down things in the lab and prepare for a bit of turkey and ham, I thought I’d put up some of my favourite blog posts from the last year:

Finally, for a bit of fun, check out the Austrian Hexapod Dance Competition:

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Progress at Willow Garage

Just came across this new video of the Willow Garage PR2 robot. They’re making rapid progress. When they reach their goal of distributing these platforms to research groups around the world, it will be a good day for robotics. One neat package that comes out of the box up many different near-state-of-the-art capabilities. Right now every research group is independently re-creating platforms from scratch, and it’s a huge obstacle to progress.
If you haven’t heard of Willow Garage, I have an overview here.

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Update: Another new video, celebrating two successive days of autonomous runs.

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Amazon Remembers

When it rains, it pours. Amazon is joining the visual search party, but with a twist.

Today Amazon released an iPhone app with a feature called “Amazon Remembers”. You take a picture of some product you’re interested in and the app uploads it to Amazon. You can then revisit your list later from a browser, e.g. to buy the item. The interesting bit is that Amazon attempts to generate a link to the product page based on your image. Examples here. This isn’t instant, and may take anywhere from five minutes to 24 hours.

Fascinatingly, the back end is apparently not computer vision based. It uses Mechanical Turk, where Amazon is paying people $0.10 per image to generate the links. See here. This is quite amazing to me. I have no idea if Mechanical Turk is deep enough to support this app if it truly becomes popular, but I suppose in that case Amazon could set up a dedicated call-centre type operation to handle the image recognition.

So, visual search companies now have a very direct measure of the value of a correct image search. Judging by the current set of images on Mechanical Turk, a fully automated solution is not possible. However, a hybrid system where some easy categories like books are recognised automatically and harder cases are farmed out to Mechanical Turk would clearly translate into significantly lower costs.
(Of course it’s possible Amazon are already doing this, though I did see several books in the Mechanical Turk requests).

Nokia Point and Find

It seems I missed something fairly major in my round up of mobile visual search companies last week. Nokia have a serious project in the area called Point and Find. You can see a demo here. From MSearchGroove:

“Nokia is committed to owning the visual search space and has committed a staff of 30 to build the business and further develop the technology. The business area has the buy-in of Nokia senior execs and “quite large” funding from the company

The technology comes from an acquisition of a valley startup called Pixto just over a year ago. Nokia’s service is apparently  due for launch soon, initially recognising movie posters only.