Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Camera captures voices without a microphone

Yasuhiro Oikawa of Waseda University in Tokyo pointed a high-speed camera at the throat of a volunteer with one task in mind: To capture his/her voice without the use of a microphone.

Yes, you read that correctly. Oikawa and his team announced at the International Congress on Acoustics on June 3 that they used cameras to take thousands of images per second and record the motions of a person’s neck and voice box as they spoke. A computer program then turned the recorded vibrations into sound waves.

Why did they do this, you ask? Some lip-reading software programs are sophisticated enough to recognize different languages, but the end result doesn’t usually involve much more than a transcript, according to a ScienceNews article. In addition, microphones often record too much background noise, so Oikawa and his colleagues, looking for a new method of capturing vocal tones, came up with this idea.

The article explains that the researchers pointed the camera at the throats of two volunteers and had them say the Japanese word tawara, which means straw bale or bag. The team recorded them at 10,000 fps, and at the same time, recorded the volunteers’ words with a standard microphone and a vibrometer for comparison. The vibrations recorded by the camera vibrations can’t be recorded by a camera – I think you mean “interpreted by the camera data) were similar to the ones from the microphone and vibrometer, Oikawa said in the article.

After running the images though a computer program, the team reconstructed the volunteers’ voices well enough to hear and understand them saying tawara. Mechanical engineer Weikang Jiang of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China noted Oikawa did not play audio of the reconstructed voices, but instead showed the comparison photos of the sound waves and vibrations.

Like Weikang, I am interested to hear what the audio sounds like.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Personalized advertising with facial detection

“Cara” is new facial detection software from IMRSV that uses a standard webcam to scan faces up to 25 feet away and determines age and gender. It’s currently being used on a wall of shoes in the back of a Reebok store in Fifth Avenue in New York, where it is helping the store to see which customers are spending more time at the shoe wall, quickly walking away, or actually buying something.

If this experiment goes well, Reebok could install an advertising display that would intelligently react to different customers. For instance, if I were to walk into a store and pick up a pair of size 10 running shoes, a video might pop up on the screen to tell me about these shoes.

No, really.

According to IMRSV, Cara collects data with 93% detection accuracy. Its demographics include gender (92% accuracy), and age (Child, young adult, adult, senior, with 80% accuracy).  It detects at a distance of up to 25 feet away and can scan multiple people at the same time. In addition to customized marketing, Cara could be used to watch audiences during live performances and monitor whether drivers are looking at the road, says IMRSV.

While this is all quite fascinating, I can’t help but think of a scene in Minority Report, where Tom Cruise is walking down a hallway rather quickly and the digital billboards are bombarding him with personalized ads. (Check it out here.) While the technology isn’t nearly as intrusive—it’s certainly not scanning your retina and immediately placing exactly who you are and where you’re from—it is eerily reminiscent of the futuristic adverts portrayed in the film.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tele-rehabilitation booming with Kinect



At a panel discussion at the American Telemedicine Association trade show,  Dr. Kouroush Parsapour said that physical therapy in the United States is approaching crisis, so much so that by 2030, the number of states with sub-standard physical therapy will increase from 12 to 48.  With this in mind he created 5plus Therapy, a startup that works on building digital health physical therapy tools.

At 5plus Therapy, Parsapour uses Microsoft’s Kinect to measure a patient’s movement, a task that he had previously performed with a goniometer. Parsapour is not alone. A number of tele-rehabilitation startup companies nationwide are using the Kinect. 

Reflexion Health, has started clinical trials to validate the technology. Reflexion offers a rehab measurement tool that uses Kinect to instruct the patient on exercises and measure whether they are performing their exercises correctly. 

MobiHealthNews has a list of nine companies that are using digital rehabilitation solutions, all of which use or plan to use the Microsoft Kinect. 

Last week I wrote about how video games may be able to help improve 3D vision in adults with lazy eye. In that blog I mentioned how I was never a fan of video games, but with all of the good they are capable of, should I give them a second chance?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cloudless atlas of earth


Using two years’ worth of images taken by Nasa satellites, a mapping site called MapBox has created a brilliant cloudless atlas of Earth.

The process begins with Nasa’s Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) technology, which can image the entire Earth every one to two days. The system is attached to the Terra and Aqua satellites that were launched into orbit in 1999 and 2002, respectively. The satellites and the MODIS system images collected data using the visual field wavelength, and once MapBox received the data it wanted from Nasa, it began processing the images.

Prior to the launch, MapBox cartographer Charlie Lloyd told the Daily Mail that the 339,000, 16-megapixel+ satellite images totaled more than 5,687,476,224,000 pixels. Lloyd and fellow cartographers at MapBox then began the process of identifying images that had a clear view of the ground. By processing the images, the team was able to remove the clouds.

This gent and his team did this for every pixel in the world! This enables folks to see images of Earth that have never been seen before, including things like land-use patterns, deforestation, cities, and so on. The images created by MapBox essentially provide an idea of what astronauts on board the International Space Station see on a clear day.

While all of the images are undoubtedly impressive, a select few are truly and utterly remarkable. Take this one, for example, which shows a clear image of the UK. In this image, you can see London, The Brecon Beacons in Wales, and the highlands in Scotland.

Rather cool stuff, no doubt about it. If you’re interested in reading more, click here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Restore 3D vision with video games


I’ve never been particularly interested in playing video games. Considering the fact that they can sometimes lead to addiction and/or violence, it actually makes me question whether or not they are best left alone, at least for young children. On the flip side, though, are the potential positives that games can bring to the table.

As it turns out, playing the right video games may actually help you improve brain function, lose weight, and…restore 3D vision for people with a lazy eye? If you had to read that last part twice, you aren’t alone. A study performed at McGill University has found that playing video games with both eyes can dramatically improve vision in adults with lazy eye, which is a condition that was thought to be all but untreatable in adults, according to a CBCNews article.

Lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, is an eye disorder characterized by impaired vision in an eye that otherwise appears normal. This is a condition that is estimated to affect 1% to 5% of the global population. Those with the condition have limited depth perception and hence cannot judge distances as well as people with normal vision.

With the new treatment developed by a team led by Robert Hess, director of the opthalmology research department at McGill and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, vision in the weaker eye of someone with lazy eye drastically improves, and rather quickly. Here’s how they did it:

They chose the game of Tetris, a game that can only be played effectively using both eyes. By splitting the image between eyepieces of head-mounted goggles, one eye sees the falling pieces and the other eye sees pieces already fitted at the bottom of the screen. After playing Tetris for an hour a day for two weeks (that’s a lot of Tetris!), nine adults with lazy eye showed vast improvement in the vision of the weaker eye and in their 3D depth perception.

Rather cool stuff, if you ask me, but I can’t say for certain whether or not I’ll be playing Tetris any time soon.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The future is here


Science and engineering aside, what is the first thing that you think of when the idea of 3D holographic images comes to mind? Star Wars? The Jetsons? Red Dwarf? For decades, the idea of 3D holography has been referenced in pop culture. So when William Hanna and Joseph Barbera portrayed the Jetsons’ using holographic televisions and telephones in 2062, just how grounded in reality were these depictions?

As it turns out, the Hanna-Barbera duo was onto something.

3D holograms are already being used to create maps that enable soldiers and commanders to navigate the terrain in which they are operating without 3D glasses or goggles. The same technology could be making its way into people’s homes and offices sooner than Hanna and Barbera might have thought.

A job listing from Microsoft suggests that the company is working on telepresence technology that would depict a virtual hologram of the person on the other end of a conversation. In other words, Microsoft is reportedly bringing 3D holograms to Skype, says Laptop Mag.

We’ve seen similar technology developed already, as researchers at Queen’s University created a human-sized 3D videoconferencing system that allows people in different locations to communicate as if they were face to face. But with the Skype hologram technology, no pods and no sensors would be involved.

Needless to say, this could revolutionize the way that offsite colleagues and business partners interact with one another. On one hand, it would be beneficial for those who are unable to meet in person for one reason or another. Meeting and chatting face-to-face and in person is something that cannot be replaced. But on the other hand, will the technology begin to erode the need for a common, shared workplace? Conjecture, no doubt, but it is interesting to think about.

In considering some of the advances involving 3D technology we’ve seen of late, what’s next? Here's what I'm thinking.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Respect the past, create the new


Roughly translated from Japanese to English, the phrase onkochishin means “Respect the past, create the new.” For this particular blog topic that advice adheres well, as scientists have produced an audio file from a 128-year-old relic.

Alexander Graham Bell, the man who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone, does not have a voice. This is not to say the man was a mute--he was not--but given that he passed away nearly 91 years ago, nobody has actually heard his voice for nearly a century?

Until now.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, working in tandem with the Library of Congress and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has identified a recording of Bell’s voice for the first time. It all began when a transcript that was signed and dated by Bell on April 15, 1885, was matched with a wax-on-binder-board disc that carries his initials with the same date. The Smithsonian sent the disc to go through the noninvasive optical sound recovery process  on equipment developed by the Berkeley Lab to it to be audibly matched to the transcript, and to produce an audio file.

How? Well that, of course, is the interesting part.

In this process, 3D optical metrology and surface profiling methods create a 3D digital map. The map is then processed to remove evidence of wear or damage, and software calculates the motion of a stylus moving through the disc’s grooves, reproducing the audio content into a digital file. An in-depth look at how this technology was developed and it utilized (how it is used) can be found here.

The group that produced the recording was also responsible for retrieving 10 seconds of the French folk song “Au Clair de la Lune,” from an 1860 recording of sound waves made as squiggles on a piece of paper.

So while it may not be the high-quality audio that folks today are used to today, it is only fitting that the man--who may or may not have invented the telephone--now has a voice.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The eyes have it

Camera-based surveillance systems have definitely played an important role in helping to keep crime down. With the knowledge that their activities will be captured on cameras, members of the criminal fraternity have been dissuaded from committing felonious acts in the community.

But while such systems are undoubtedly effective, they do cost money to commission and maintain. And that's cash that many hard-up communities may be loathed to part with in these financially challenging times.

So could there be a cheaper way to reduce crime without the use of such cameras? Well, apparently, yes, there is. Researchers at Newcastle University (Newcastle, UK) have now discovered that bicycle theft, for example, can be significantly reduced simply by placing pictures of staring eyes above bike racks.

In a two year experiment on the university campus, the academics showed that the eye  pictures -- which were combined with a short anti-theft message -- reduced thefts from the bike racks by 62 per cent.

Newcastle University's Professor Daniel Nettle said that the images of eyes could act to dissuade crime by making people feel that they are being observed -- in a similar way to surveillance cameras -- and as a result behave in a more honest fashion.

That, of course, is the good news. The bad news is that there was also a noticeable difference in crime in places without the signs, where bike theft went up by 63 per cent, suggesting that the crime had been displaced to other locations, rather than eliminated.

Despite that fact, the British Transport Police are now trialing the idea with train Company C2C on a route between Fenchurch Street Station in London and Southend in Essex.

While the idea undoubtedly has its merits, I'd like to think that a more comprehensive solution to the bike theft issue might be to install a couple of surveillance cameras behind the pictures of the staring eyes.

Although my belt-and-braces idea might cost a few more shillings to implement, the combination of the eye pictures and the vision-based solution would not only lead to an even greater reduction in bicycle thefts, but also provide the police with detailed images of those still intent on a life of crime.

Banking on a barcode

If you are a private investor engaged in online trading and banking, having a Trojan attack your PC and whisk your personal financial details off into the nether regions of the internet is a rather horrid experience.

Fortunately, some rather clever chaps at Cambridge University spin-out Cronto (Cambridge, UK) have now developed a system called CrontoSign to address this issue -- a data security solution that makes use of nothing less than a two-dimensional barcode.

In use, a bank generates the proprietary two-dimensional barcode -- a matrix of colored dots containing a cryptographically-encoded message -- and then sends it to a customer. The code is then decoded by the customer using an app running on a handheld device such as a cell phone or on dedicated hardware supplied by the company.

The bar code provides a secure "envelope" around the data so that it can be displayed to the customer over any unsecured channel. So although a Trojan might see the image being sent by the bank, it cannot change the secure data inside.

Two German banks -- comdirect bank and Commerzbank -- have already rolled out the system, which is known in Germany as photoTAN.

Customers can now scan a photoTAN image displayed on the banks' websites using the photoTAN mobile app or dedicated photoTAN hardware device. A customer then sees the message from their bank, which typically asks them to confirm the action they are attempting to perform.


To confirm the transaction, the customer uses a six-digit code, generated by the app or device, and enters it into the browser on their PC. The code acts as the customer's signature for a specific instruction, and once received and validated by the bank's server, completes the transaction.

While Cronto is currently focused on the online banking sector, the company also sees commercial possibilities for the system in e-commerce, peer-to-peer online payments, or any other application where there is a need to create a trusted connection between two parties.

You can read more about the CrontoSign system here. A video demonstrating the system is also available on YouTube in German here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Crash detector

Using one of those new-fangled computer tablets while walking along the street can be a dangerous affair.

Just the other day, for example, I saw one self-absorbed individual who collided with another pedestrian while strolling down a pedestrian precinct as he used such a tablet to surf the internet.

It could have been a whole lot worse. He could have walked into something a lot harder, such as a brick wall or a lamp post, and caused some serious injuries to either himself or the infrastructure.

One answer to this problem, of course, is not to use such mobile devices while walking, and concentrate on negotiating the environment instead. But these days, when we all like to be permanently wired into the web, many individuals are unlikely to heed such practical advice.

Recognizing that fact, a team of researchers at the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) have now developed a rather nifty little vision-based system that could be the answer to mobile users' prayers.

Their so-called "CrashAlert" system augments mobile devices such as tablets with a Microsoft Kinect depth camera to provide distance and location visual cues of obstacles on a user's path. The Kinect camera itself is connected to a battery powered laptop computer carried in a backpack via a USB connection. When it receives images from the Kinect, it processes them and sends them off to the tablet via a Bluetooth connection.


In this way, a user can see their surroundings on the tablet while they walk, dodging and slowing down or lifting their head to avoid any potential collisions and related injuries.

Now the cynics amongst my blog followers might consider that hauling around a bulky computer and a Kinect system in a backpack completely defeats the purpose of using a lightweight tablet in the first place. And, of course, they're probably right.

But if such a system was miniaturized and actually fitted to the tablet itself, then it might actually prove to be of some practical use. And I'm sure that such systems will be in the future.

A research paper entitled "Crash Alert: Enhancing Peripheral Alertness for Eyes-Busy Mobile Interaction while Walking," by Manitoba University researchers Juan David Hincapié-Ramos and Pourang Irani is available on the internet here. Just don't read it on a tablet while attempting to negotiate a busy pedestrian precinct.

Editor's note: Interested in reading more about novel uses of the Kinect? Then why not browse through our recent slideshow here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reading and running

Ask anyone and they will tell you the same thing. I've never been too fond of outdoor sports. My dislike probably dates back to my time at school in England, where all the lads were required to take part in rather rough games of "rugger"” three times a week.

Nevertheless, I can certainly see the advantage of giving the heart and muscles a good old work out in the comfort of my own home on one of those new fangled running machines.

But the problem with those running machines is that, up until now, it’s been impossible to partake in anything more intellectual -- like reading a treatise on how to program computer vision systems with Python -- whilst pounding away on the treadmill.

Thankfully though, some rather clever chaps at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN, USA) have now come up with a solution to this problem. That's right. They have developed a system called "Readmate" that allows treadmill users to read text on a small monitor mounted in front of the machine while they are exercising.


To do so, a user must first don a pair of goggles equipped with infrared LEDs. An infrared camera can then track the runner's bobbing head by capturing images from the LEDs. Then the text on the screen is moved in unison with the head movement.

According to Ji Soo Yi, an assistant professor of industrial engineering at Purdue, the text cannot be moved exactly in synch with the head because the eye is already doing what it can to compensate. So the system accounts for that compensation by moving the text slightly out of synch with the head motion.

While the new system could prove to be a boon for those who get easily bored by endlessly running on the same spot, it also might be used by heavy equipment operators and aircraft pilots who experience heavy shaking and turbulence while reading information from a display.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Heavy goods

If heavy goods vehicles and their trailers are too heavily loaded, or the loads incorrectly distributed, they may constitute a traffic hazard and damage road surfaces.

But stopping vehicles randomly at weigh stations for no good reason -- especially those weighing hundreds of tons – can mean that a lot of fuel is wasted unnecessarily in the stopping and starting process.

Now though, SINTEF, the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia, is heading up the development of a new system called "NonStop" that could offer a novel solution to the weighty problem.

The system makes use of a special piezoelectric cable countersunk into the road surface. The cable generates an electrical voltage when subjected to pressure, and in this way the weight of a vehicle passing over it can be determined and recorded by a computer.

Complementing the road sensor is an automatic number plate recognition system that will read vehicle number plates from which a vehicle's permitted load can then be determined.

The measured weight and the load that the vehicle is allowed to carry will then be used by inspectors from the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA) to assess whether it should be stopped or not.

SINTEF was commissioned by the NPRA to develop the system. Other partners involved are the Norwegian Hauliers' Association and the Oslo firm Ciber.

What I particularly like about the Scandinavian idea is that it not only makes use of state of the art vision systems, but uses them in conjunction with a cable whose piezoelectric properties were discovered way back in 1880 by French physicists Jacques and Pierre Curie.

Indeed, considering how to couple older technologies with the new might also provide many developers of vision systems in other fields some ideas along similar lines.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Magic mirror

Regular readers to this blog will be aware of the coverage that I have devoted in the past to a company called Raspberry Pi,  a spin out from that UK hive of cerebral activity, Cambridge University (Cambridge, UK).

The engineers at Raspberry Pi have developed, and are now selling, a small inexpensive Arm (Cambridge, UK) based computer that plugs into a TV and a keyboard.  It's a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that a desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video.

Since its launch, the inexpensive computer has attracted a lot of interest from hobbyists and academics alike who have deployed it in a variety of innovative ways.

In one of the more recent applications, a French chap by the name of Pierre Raufast has used his Raspberry Pi computer, a webcam and OpenCV software to create a "Magic Mirror" with a disembodied voice which recognizes the person looking into it and responds accordingly.

To enable others to build a similar system, the generous Frenchman has posted up an easy-to-follow tutorial, including a hardware list, software, instructions and tips on successfully using OpenCV for face-recognition. It can be found on the Think RPI web site here.


Having finished assembling the hardware, downloading and compiling the source code and training your system to recognize individuals, Monsieur Raufast recommends that you take a break and read "L'homme qui plantait des arbres," an allegorical tale by French author Jean Giono, published in 1953.

Personally, if I were Monsieur Raufast, I wouldn't be sitting back on my laurels and reading anything. If I had developed such a system, I'd be investigating whether the good folks at The Walt Disney Company might be interested in parting with some of their money to help me commercialize it.

Monsieur Raufast has posted a video of his Magic Mirror in action on YouTube. You can view it here. I wonder what the Brothers Grimm would make of it?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Teddy cam

A camera hidden in a teddy bear has caught a care worker stealing money from the home of an old age pensioner in the UK.

According to a report in the UK's Daily Telegraph, 28-year old care worker Emelie Kleen-Barry was caught red handed stealing from 81-year old grandmother Margret Birch by the hidden camera. She was jailed at Leicester Crown Court for 13 months for stealing £40 in cash from Birch's home.

Mrs Birch kept her purse in a wardrobe in her room, but when funds appeared to be diminishing faster than she expected, her family planted the so-called "Teddy Cam" in her room and focused it on the wardrobe to find out what was happening to the money.

The family called the trap 'Operation Narnia' and the device soon came into its own when it caught Kleen-Barry taking money from the grandmother's purse.

"In my professional opinion, Teddy Cams and other hidden cameras are the best way to give peace of mind to families and friends who are worried about what goes on when they can't be around to care for vulnerable people," says Kristy George, a spokesperson for the Birmingham, UK-based firm Private Detective (Birmingham, UK).

That company claims to have had great success in the past with Teddy Cams. Not only are they an excellent way to keep an eye on an elderly or infirm relative of friend who lives alone or in warden controlled home, they can also can be given to a child to find out how they are being cared for by others when the parents are not around.



Clearly, such wireless monitoring devices can be a great boon for those with elderly parents or those with small children. But such Teddy Cameras are not inexpensive. One such bear from Eyetek Surveillance (Chaddesden, UK) that comes equipped with a color camera and transmitter which transmits video to a receiver currently retails in the UK for £145 (almost $220).

Faced with similar surveillance issues, those of us with an engineering bent might like to consider constructing our own such bears instead of buying one. Certainly, it's an idea that has caught the imagination of our European Editor Dave Wilson.

He tells me that he could pick up a wireless camera and receiver for around £45 ($68) from UK electronics gizmo supplier Maplin that he is almost certain he could retrofit quite easily to the somewhat elderly bear from his childhood.

Soon then, the unfortunate beast might be taken from the upstairs cupboard where he has lived for the past fifty years only to have his soft delicate insides drawn out to make way for the new vision-based implant.

References:

1. Thieving care worker caught on camera inside teddy bear

2. Eyetek Surveillance Wireless Teddy Camera 


3. Discreet Wireless Colour CCTV Camera

Zero defects

Many reasons are often cited for deploying machine vision systems. These include improving tedious and repetitive manual inspection tasks that are prone to human error while increasing productivity at the same time.

In many manufacturing environments, single point inspection systems can determine whether a product has been properly assembled. If not, the product is then rejected and may be reworked or scrapped. Needless to say, such reworking may prove expensive if a product has gone through multiple manufacturing stages before being inspected.

To reduce the amount of reworking required, many manufacturers employ what is known as a "zero defects forward" approach. Rather than inspect a product after it has been fully assembled, the product is inspected after each step in the assembly process.

In this way, any defects that occur at each stage are recognized and can be more easily corrected before the next phase of assembly. In addition, such "zero defects forward" approaches save the time and money that would have otherwise be wasted by completing the assembly of a defective product that would ultimately need to be disassembled and then re-assembled.

To further improve the manufacturing process, manufacturers can also deploy vision-based robotics systems to automate the assembly task itself, relieving operators of the tedious job of doing so.

By deploying such systems in conjunction with vision-based inspection systems, manufacturers can further reduce assembly cost, increase productivity and eliminate human error. However, for many Smaller to Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs), implementing fully automated robotic assembly systems may only be justified if the return on investment is high enough.

As an alternative, those enterprises who have already realized the benefits of implementing vision systems to inspect their products could consider deploy semi-automated assembly systems to evaluate their effectiveness.

In doing so, they will avoid the costs of implementing fully automated assembly systems, while at the same time reaping the benefits of semi-automated assembly before they ultimately and inexorably move towards a totally automated manufacturing environment.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fish that spit

When Swiss-born ophthalmologist Dr. Edmund Landolt proposed a new type of symbol for testing visual acuity in 1888, he probably would never have dreamed that one day it would be used to help explain how fish are able to feed on insects.

But that is exactly what Dr. Shelby Temple at Bristol University (Bristol, UK), and a team at the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia have done. They have modified Dr. Landolt's so-called "C test" to discover the resolving power of the eyes of a family of fish known as archerfish.

The archerfish themselves are rather unusual creatures. They have a special way of hunting for food that involves spitting jets of water at tiny aerial insects high above the water's surface. Because sound and smell do not cross the air-water interface, these fish must depend on their visual capabilities to find, identify and accurately spit at their prey.

To discover how visually acute such fish are, the researchers first trained them to spit at one of two letters -- an 'O' or a 'C' -- by rewarding them with food.  Then they showed them small versions of both letters together and recorded which letter they spat at.

"This modified Landolt C test works because the only difference between the two letters is the gap in the C, so in order to tell the difference and spit at the right target to get their reward the fish must be able to resolve the gap," says Dr. Temple.



To test the archerfish's resolving power, the size of the letters were decreased in steps. The scientists then compared the behavioral results from their experiments to the fishes' predicted acuity based on measurements of the photoreceptor density in their retinas.

The results, published in the journal Vision Research, show that archerfish are one of the most visually acute freshwater fish. They are able to resolve between 3.23 and 3.57 cycles per degree (0.155-0.140° of visual arc) with the part of their retina that looks up and forwards, which is not surprising given their interesting foraging strategy.

If Dr. Landolt were alive today, I'm sure he'd undoubtedly be amused to learn how his test had been repurposed, and impressed to see how effective it was at helping biological scientists such as Dr. Temple determine the visual acuity of animals other than human beings.

More information on the research is available on the Bristol University web site here. The researchers' technical paper "A comparison of behavioural (Landolt C) and anatomical estimates of visual acuity in archerfish (Toxotes chatareus)" is available here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dead fish

The "discarding" of fish by commercial fishermen is a term commonly used to describe the practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea -- usually dead.

Under the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) discards have historically taken place for three reasons. Firstly, fish are discarded if they are small and under the legal minimum size which fishermen are allowed to land for that species. Second, they are thrown back into the sea if a fisherman's annual quota for that species has already been reached, making it illegal to land it. Lastly, fish are dispensed with if they are of a species which has no commercial market value.

Thankfully, discarding fish will soon become a thing of the past after the UK Government secured a historic victory in Brussels to set firm dates to reform the EU Common Fisheries Policy and introduce a ban on the practice. Hence the wasteful practice of discarding edible fish stocks like herring and mackerel will end from January 2014. A ban for white fish stocks will begin in January 2016.

The legislation will undoubtedly save the lives of many thousands of fish. But what of the scavenging birds that follow the fishing vessels to help themselves to a free lunch? How will they be affected by the move?

That's exactly what Dr. Stephen C. Votier, an Associate Professor in Marine Ecology at the School of Marine Science and Engineering at Plymouth University  (Plymouth, UK) wanted to find out.  To do so, Dr. Votier and his team attached cameras and GPS systems to ten Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) to provide a unique view of how the seabirds interacted with the fishing vessels.

Results from his research revealed that all the cameras on the birds captured images of large (>15m) boats, but not smaller vessels. Virtually all the vessels were trawlers, and the gannets were almost always accompanied by other scavenging birds. All the birds  exhibited an area-restricted search during foraging, but only 42 per cent of such searches were associated with the fishing vessels, indicating that the birds were still foraging naturally.

The research illustrates the fact that those vessels discarding fish provide an important source of food for foraging gannets, but that they will be able to adapt well if discards were to disappear altogether -- if there is sufficient food to meet their nutritional needs.

While Dr. Votier's research has provided a fascinating insight into the foraging habits of seabirds, his technique of equipping birds with cameras and GPS systems might also be used in the future to fight in the battle against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activity, which may still result in a significant amount of discards.

References:

1. A Bird’s Eye View of Discard Reforms: Bird-Borne Cameras Reveal Seabird/Fishery Interactions

2. Historic day as Fisheries Ministers agree a date for discards ban

Related articles from Vision Systems Design that you might also find of interest.

1. Cameras and computers count fish

Researchers at the University of Western Australia (Perth, Australia) led by associate professor Euan Harvey have been awarded a three-year, $450,000 Australian Research Council Linkage grant to develop a vision-based computer algorithm to count and measure fish.

2. Fish processed by vision system

Engineers at the Icelandic firm Valka (Kópavogur, Iceland) have designed a vision-based cutting machine that can cut out pin bones from red fish, as well as trim and portion the fish into fish fillets.

3. A fish tale

To maximize profits, fish farmers are using a machine-vision system and smart software to sort good fish eggs from bad.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pretty girls make graves

Forty years ago, I read an interesting science fiction story about a novel device worn on the top of the head that lit up when its wearer was in the presence of an individual that he or she found particularly attractive.

The device in question removed all of the ambiguity involved in determining whether individuals thought that strangers were particularly desirable, and the story delved into the social implications of doing so.

While it sounded rather far fetched at the time, this week, science fiction became a bit closer to science reality with the news that Fujitsu Laboratories (Kawasaki, Japan) has developed software that is capable of measuring an individual's pulse rate in real time by calculating variations in the brightness of their face.

The software, which captures and processes images from a built-in camera in a PC, smart phone or tablet, can measure a pulse rate simply by pointing the device at a person's face for as little as five seconds.

The system takes advantage of the fact that one of the characteristics of hemoglobin in blood is that it absorbs green light. So, after capturing a video of the face with the camera, the software uses the peaks in the brightness of the green component of the RGB images in the video frames from which to compute a pulse rate.

Naturally enough, the good folks at Fujitsu see the development of such a system as enabling individuals to use their own inexpensive camera-equipped devices to determine how healthy they are. And while that's all well and good, there are clearly other social implications.

It's a well known fact, for example, that a racing pulse is a sign of instant attraction. So it's quite possible that -- should such software be offered onto the open market -- it could be used by certain folks to determine how attractive others find them.

While that might seem to be a rather frivolous use of the technology, there could be some health implications here too. According to that bastion of editorial excellence, the UK Daily Mail, for example, researchers at the University of Valencia (Valencia, Spain) have shown that -- for men -- just five minutes spent alone with a beautiful stranger can cause so much stress it may be bad for the heart.

For that reason, men lucky enough to spend time in the company of beautiful ladies might be better off pointing their smart phones at themselves -- rather than at the ladies -- to determine the effects their socializing is having on their health.

References:

1. Fujitsu Laboratories develops real-time pulse monitor using facial imaging

2. How a beautiful stranger will send a man’s stress hormones soaring

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Every moment remembered

These days, most folks in the western world carry a smart-phone with them at all times, enabling them not only to talk and text, but to also capture images of their friends and family.

Many such people, of course, only haul out their smart-phones to take a snap when they feel that the picture that they are taking is important enough to justify doing so. But the folks at Memoto (Linköping, Sweden) believe that because of that, many important moments in an individual's life might well be lost.

To rectify the situation, the engineers there have developed a miniature 36 x 36 x 9 mm wearable camera that a captures images continuously, creating a visual log of the life of the user.

Memoto itself was founded by six Swedish serial entrepreneurs just last year. Martin Källström, formerly founder and CEO of blog search engine Twingly, came up with the concept of the Memoto camera. To develop it further, he recruited his friend Oskar Kalmaru, founder of an online video provider, as well as Björn Wesén, who was, at the time, a freelance electronic design engineer.

The Memoto GPS-enabled weatherproof camera they have created has no buttons. While a user is wearing it, it takes two timed geotagged photos a minute, enabling a user to immediately review when and where he or she was when the image was taken.

Now there are some who might regard such a device as only pandering to the needs of individuals who are egotistical enough to believe that every moment of their lives should be recorded for posterity.

On the other hand, such cameras might prove extremely useful in certain industrial or security applications. I'm sure that many companies, for example, would be only too delighted to attach such cameras to their employees, so they might track their activities on a daily basis. And the police could certainly use them to tag known offenders and capture a visual log of their activities to ensure that they weren’t involved in any nefarious businesses.


If you would like to purchase one of the wearable cameras -- which come in three colors - orange, graphite grey and arctic white -- they can now be pre-ordered at the company web site for the price of $279.00.

Personally, I wouldn't have much use for one, unless I wanted to capture hours of images of the PC screen in front of which I sit for most of the day writing news and features for Vision Systems Design.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Entrepreneurs matter

Many companies who design and develop vision systems are founded by engineers with an entrepreneurial spirit who want to carve out their own niche in life rather than working in a nine-to-five job for a larger organization.

Such individuals often have the unique ability to not only identify a specific requirement in the marketplace, but are also able to direct their teams of engineers to create systems to meet those needs as well.

But what happens to such organizations when their founder dies? According to new research from the Universities of Warwick and Bergen, the result is rather astonishing -- the death of a founding entrepreneur wipes out on average 60 percent of a firm’s sales and cuts jobs by around 17 percent.

The research, by Professor Sascha O. Becker at Warwick University (Coventry, UK) and Professor Hans K. Hvide at Bergen University (Bergen, Norway) has shed some light on exactly how much a founder-entrepreneur 'matters' in terms of influencing the performance of privately-owned businesses.

To reach their conclusion, the researchers analyzed firms' performance up to four years after the death of the founder-entrepreneur and found a long-lasting and significant negative impact. Although they didn't specifically look at companies in the vision systems design marketplace, from my own experience, there is no doubt that the conclusions that they reached are equally applicable.

As well as the striking effect on sales, companies whose entrepreneur dies have 20 per cent lower survival rates two years after the death, compared to similar firms where the entrepreneur remains alive.

Warwick University's Professor Becker said that while the researchers expected businesses that experienced the death of a founder-entrepreneur to have some kind of a dip in performance immediately after the death owing to the upheaval, they had anticipated that there would be a bounce-back.

However, even four years after the death of a company founder, most firms showed no sign of recovering and the negative effect on performance appeared to continue even further beyond that.

Professor Becker said that the results showed what a vital role such people played in maintaining productivity levels within a firm, but could only surmise as to why that might be so. 

While it could be because the founder was a fantastic sales-person who generated a disproportionately high level of sales, it could be due to their leadership, where the employees were inspired to perform to their best ability.

The researchers looked at various different types of firms to see how they were affected by founder-entrepreneur death. But they found no difference between results for family or non-family firms, urban or rural businesses, and no significant variation across sectors.

The level of education of the founder-entrepreneur also played a role in determining how badly the firms were affected -- those with the most highly educated founders experienced a bigger drop in performance after their death. The researchers also looked at whether ownership shares mattered. What they found was that the effect of the death of a 50-per-cent owner was roughly half that of the death of a majority owner.

In the vision industry, I'm pleased to say that there are some companies that have continued to succeed after their founders have passed away. In many cases, however, they were founded by individuals who recognized the need to entrust the responsibility of running their companies to younger equally entrepreneurially-inspired individuals long before they died.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The best of times

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Unfortunately, it was the latter that greeted me upon arriving in Orlando, Florida at the Automated Imaging Association's business conference.

Originally, I had not planned to attend the conference, delegating the task to our European Editor, David Wilson, whom I decided needed a week in the sun after a cruel English winter.

However, after Jeff Burnstein, the President of the Association, informed me that I was to be presented with the AIA's annual achievement award, my plans quickly changed. After booking my flight, I decided that, after the conference was over, I would treat my brother to visit Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland.

 Unfortunately, this was not to be. On the day before the conference, I received a telephone call from Dave who informed me that he had pulled a muscle in his chest and could not get out of bed. And, so, armed with 35 tablets of Vicodin, I disembarked from the airplane to reconnoiter the situation.

From then on, things went south. The "beautiful" International Palms Resort hotel in Florida was not that beautiful -- in fact there were cigarette burns on the carpets, the place was filthy, the shower in my room was broken and the elevators did not work properly. To add to this nightmare, I discovered my brother in great pain lying in bed unable to move. Needless to say, I immediately called for a doctor.

After about two hours, an elderly gentleman arrived with his assistant replete with a bag full of more drugs than my local pharmacy. After what seemed like an hour long exam, my brother was diagnosed with a cracked rib, given an injection of hydrocortisone and a prescription for Vicodin. Needless to say, my brother was somewhat incapacitated for the whole week.

To make matters worse, I only had four hours before accepting my award. After driving to the airport to re-register Dave's car, I drove back to the beautiful International Palms Resort hotel and picked up the prescription. Luckily, there was a pharmacy opposite the hotel. Unluckily, the pharmacist who ran the shop informed me that the doctor had forgotten to write the dosage on the script. After a few telephone calls, I was presented with a bill for $95 for forty-four of the wonderful white tablets.

After I delivered them, I drove the car to the conference to accept my award, only to find some very worried organizers wondering where I had spent most of the day. Only having had four hours sleep, I decided that, after checking on my patient, I would try to get an early night.

Like the rest of my plans, this was not to be. At about 10:15pm that night, two of the attendees at the conference (who must remain nameless) decided to surprise me with a bottle of Moet and Chandon. After sitting around the hotel's swimming pool talking for the next four hours, it was finally time for bed. Four hours later, I went back to attend the rest of the conference.

Needless to say, our European Editor and I never did get to greet any rodents in the Magic Kingdom.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Thermal crackdown in Slough

To exploit those individuals in the UK on low incomes who may not be able to afford to live in conventional lodgings, some unscrupulous home owners have converted their outbuildings into accommodation which they then rent out at low cost.

The problem with such dwellings -- known in the UK as “sheds with beds” -- is that they may not comply with UK building or fire safety regulations, and hence could represent a hazard to the hapless tenants who are forced to rent them due to their unfortunate circumstances.

Now, Slough Borough Council is set to become the first local authority in the UK to do something about the problem, with the help of thermal imaging technology. To assist it in its endeavors, the council has commissioned geographic imaging company Bluesky International (Coalville, UK)  to fly an airplane fitted with aerial imaging cameras over the whole borough at night, after which it will produce a thermal map of the town. Officers will then use the map to pin-point warm areas in outbuildings.

It is not known exactly how many sheds with beds there are in Slough, but estimates range from 700 to 3,000. The occupants are believed to be mostly single adults or childless couples with low incomes.

According to Ray Haslam, head of environmental services and resilience for Slough Borough Council, aerial photography is one of a range of tactics the council is using to crack down on the problem, and it hopes that evidence of heat in outbuildings will help it build a true picture of how many sheds are being lived in and where they are.

“We will be able to cross-check and see whether they have valid Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) which are required by law for places where people live. If they don’t, we will be speaking to landlords and offering some advice and guidance, and enforcing the law if we need to. One option is to repeatedly fine a landlord for not having an EPC. The fine is £200 a day, making it very expensive for people to continue using the outbuilding,” he said.

Slough Borough Council is one of a handful of local authorities who have been granted extra money from the UK Government to help improve conditions in houses of multi occupancy (HMOs) and reduce the number of sheds being used as accommodation without permission.

Cracking down on the exploitation of individuals living in unsafe housing clearly has its merits. The problem is, of course, that the technology itself does nothing to address the real issue of the lack of affordable housing. If more of that had been created in the first instance, then the need for the flying thermal cameras would be unnecessary.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Off to Florida?

You've got to feel a bit sorry for our poor beleaguered European Editor. You see at around 9 am GMT today, he received a call from a close friend who had discovered some important information relating to his trip next week to the 21st annual AIA Business Conference in Orlando, Florida.

She informed him that she had heard on the television that a law introduced in Florida on January 1, 2013 now requires all persons who hold a license issued outside of the US to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with their national driving license.

Apparently, the new law says that -- without an IDP -- a driver is therefore driving without a valid license, and if stopped, law enforcement officers have the option of either arresting the driver and taking them to jail or giving the driver a citation with a mandatory court appearance.

Not wanting either option to happen to him, our European Editor walked down to his local Post Office to see if they might supply him with the relevant documentation.  Sadly, they weren't able to help, directing him to the nearest larger Post Office in Bedford, a town no more than five miles away.

Unfortunately, upon driving into this town, parking his car and walking into the establishment in question, he was told that only a few Post Offices were capable of dealing with such requests and the nearest one was, in fact, in Luton -- over forty miles away.

Somewhat peeved, our European Editor drove home to telephone the Automobile Association (AA) who confirmed that the only way to obtain the IDP was to present his existing UK photocard license and passport at the Post Office in Luton.

After an hour long drive, he finally reached his destination. But alas, there was more bad news in store for our editorial friend.

That's right. You see, the folks at the Post Office in Luton informed him that -- in addition to his photocard license and passport -- he would also be required to present what in the UK is known as a "Counterpart Driving License (CDT)," a small green piece of paper that appears to all intents and purposes to contain exactly the same information as the photocard license itself. Our Editor, naturally enough, had left his CDT at home.

Needless to say, it took most of the day before our European Editor was actually issued with his brand spanking new IDP. He can now rest assured that nothing particularly nasty will happen to him should he be stopped by the police while attending the AIA Conference.

But he needn't have worried. Because after checking on the Internet just hours ago, I have discovered that the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles has now issued a statement saying that the recently enacted IDP requirement has been suspended pending further study.

All apparently due to the fact that the requirement may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949), an international treaty to which the United States is a signatory.

See you in Florida!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sorting seeds in Mongolia

It's unlikely that you will have ever heard of the Shandong Luhua Group. Yet this rather substantial Chinese enterprise produces no less than 600,000 tons of peanut oil and 100,000 tons of sunflower seed oil each year.

Needless to say, with production volumes like that, it's hardly surprising that its products have been exported to numerous countries, providing it with revenues in the millions.

The company itself has a number of subsidiaries -- including one in Inner Mongolia that hails by the incredibly lengthy name of the Inner Mongolia Luhua Sunflower Seeds Oil Company Limited.

The reason that I mention this particular plant in Inner Mongolia is simply because of its size. If you take a look at the picture below, you will see what I mean.


Now you might think that such a plant would employ a lot of people to perform tedious manual operations to check the size and the quality of the sunflower seeds before they are processed to make the oil.

But that's where you'd be wrong. It's for certain that many of the processes are automated, not in the least the sorting of the seeds according to their color.

The picture below, for example, testifies to that fact. Taken from inside the plant itself, it appears to show a plethora of color sorting machines from Anhui Jiexun Optoelectronic Technology (Hefei, Anhui, China). This company has produced an array of such systems to automate the sorting of all sorts of agricultural products -- including rice, cereals, beans, nuts and tea!


Now for those of you still reeling from the news that Vision 2013 has been cancelled, let me remind you that Vision China 2013 will still be held between October 16-18 this year at the China International Exhibition Center (Beijing, China).

Perhaps now is the perfect time for those of us who manufacture and market components used in vision systems to look a little further afield for new opportunities. China might be just the place.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What's good for the goose

First staged in 1901, the Chicago Auto Show is the largest auto show in North America and has been held more times than any other auto exposition on the continent.

Since 1901, a lot of changed in the automobile market, and a lot has changed at the show too. In the past, to catch a glimpse of the latest introductions from Ford, DeLorean or Cord, you physically had to attend the show. But things have changed. Thanks to the marvel of digital imaging technology, now that’s not even necessary.

That's because the organizers of the show have installed an array of webcams from TrueLook Professional Webcam Systems (Winston-Salem, NC, USA) to give those unfortunate souls who can’t travel to Chicago a live HD view from the floor of the show.

Not only are the TrueLook webcams accessible via the Chicago Auto Show’s website, users can simultaneously view and control them as well, aiming and zooming them to see the over 1,000 vehicles on display from their favorite auto manufacturers.

The webcams also let users save their photos, either to their computer or in an online photo album. Alternatively, they can be shared Facebook or Twitter. According to TrueLook, these interactive features, along with the ability to control the motorized cameras, have led to an increase in visitors to the website.

While the deployment of such cameras at an auto show might have a lot of benefits, I can’t really see the advantages of such a system at one of our own industry trade shows that focus on vision system design.

You see, visitors to our trade shows don't just come to stand and stare at a new USB3 enabled CMOS imager or the attractive model that stands next to it, but to interact with company representatives to discover whether any of the products on offer might solve a particular challenge that they are facing as systems integrators.

I can't help but think, however, that perhaps it's a little ironic that some of the camera technology on display at such shows has not been more effectively deployed by the show’s organizers in the same way that it has at the Chicago Auto Show!

The webcams at the Chicago Auto Show can be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The white stuff

When I was a small child, I used to really enjoy the sight of snow in winter. And I fondly remember (as a toddler, of course!) the winter of 1962 when the UK was hit by a massive snow storm that covered the entire country in up to six feet of snow.

These days I'm not so fond of the winter and the misery that ensues after a big snowstorm. Inevitably, after such an event, I have to shovel my drive for hours just to take my car out. That's right. Perhaps it's my age, but the very thought of a snowstorm now sends shivers down my spine.

There are those, however, who still clearly enjoy the snow. And Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT, USA), is one of them.

In fact, he’s so enamored by the snow that he has developed a rather unique instrument for capturing images of snowflakes and measuring their speed as they fall.

The so-called Multi-Angle Snowflake Camera (MASC) was developed in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the university with support from the US Army, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.


In operation, it takes 9 to 37 micron resolution stereographic photographs of falling snow from three angles, while simultaneously measuring their speed. The cameras are triggered by a vertically stacked bank of sensitive IR motion sensors and the speed is derived from successive triggers. The instrument itself is sensitive to snowflake sizes ranging from 100 micrometers to 30,000 micrometers.

If you are interested in buying the camera, you will be delighted to hear that it can now be purchased through Fallgatter Technologies, a spin-off company from the university, that is, naturally enough, headed up by Dr. Garrett himself.

The company’s first delivery was made to the US Army for the serious purpose of researching into avalanches at Mammoth Mountain, which is situated west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, California.

Having developed such an innovative camera to capture images of snowflakes as they fall, perhaps now Dr. Garrett could turn his attention to creating an inexpensive labor saving device that would help clear my drive after the white stuff has fallen.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pez head

Pez is more than just candy. That's right. It's "interactive candy" that is both enjoyable to eat and fun to play with. And that's partly because dispensers with new characters on them are introduced regularly.

But there are some Pez candy dispensers that you won't be able to buy in any of the supermarkets, mass merchandisers, variety stores, drug stores, convenience stores, toy chains and gift stores that sell them throughout the US and Canada.

That's because the heads on these particular dispensers have been custom built by folks working for the rather oddly named company, the 'Hot Pop Factory' as holiday gifts for the employees of one of their clients.

To do just that, the chaps at the Hot Pop Factory first scanned all 32 of the employees' heads in 3-D using the Microsoft Kinect camera. Astoundingly, they convinced everyone to allow them digitize their heads for "a mysterious research project", despite a lot of protesting.

After the digital 3-D models of the subjects were generated, the scans were patched up with MeshMixer, a free software tool that can be used to make 3-D models.

After some more modeling work to add a connection from the heads to the candy dispensers, they were ready to print.  And many hours of printing later, the Hot Pop Factory had produced the 32 custom built heads that were then ready to install on the candy dispensers after the existing ones had been removed.


From the reaction of the individuals who received their holiday Pez dispensers, it would appear that the whole exercise was a huge success.

However, I hope that my own publishing company doesn't decide to reward our staff with similar custom-built Pez dispensers this coming holiday season. Having just returned from hours in the dentist's chair having root canal treatment, I can't say the thought of eating any Pez candy seems like such a sweet idea at the present time.

You can watch a video of the Kinect in action here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Surfing the web

These days, it's important to have a presence on the interweb, because without it your company will be deemed to be either behind the times or out of business.

Recognising this fact, many vision systems integrators and their suppliers have developed their own web sites in which they can tout their wares and demonstrate their expertise to their customer base.

Sadly, however, after visiting numerous web sites over the past few weeks in search of new developments in the vision field, I'm sorry to say that too many companies are simply paying lip service to this technology rather than actually taking advantage of the benefits that it could potentially offer.

In many cases, it would appear that while such companies may have been initially excited by the potential that the technology offered a few years ago, today they have actually abandoned the idea that the interweb is of any use at all.

On one site that I visited recently, for example, I clicked on a specific link to see what new applications that a particular vision systems integrator might have been involved with, only to be taken to a page with a rather grotesque image and a caption that read "Your Page Has Been Hacked by Tony".

While that was the most extreme example of company negligence that I found, there were plenty of others. On another systems integrator's web site, there were a host of links to case studies. Sadly, however, all of them took me to web pages that simply read "Page Not Found".

Now you might think that this sort of thing only applies to small to medium sized enterprises. But you'd be wrong. When attempting to email the marketing department of a large robotics company, my email client informed me that my message had been returned due to the fact that no such email address could be found.

After looking at your own web site, perhaps you might also find that it is also lacking in certain functionality. And if you do, there are a couple of things that you can do about it.

On one hand, you might consider outsourcing the maintenance of the site to an external developer who will be able to consistently ensure that your site remains free from hackers and entirely functional. Alternatively, you could consider hiring an individual at your company whose sole responsibility it is to maintain your web site.

Allocating a specific resource to manage your web site might make a lot of difference to the experience of any new potential customers. But be careful to ensure that you map out the specific goals that you are trying to achieve before embarking on any venture, just as you would when specifying the design of a new vision system.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Burka foils thermal imager

Over the past few years, thermal imaging cameras have been used to locate people by capturing images of the heat emitted by their bodies.

That's because, of course, that when viewed through a thermal imaging camera, warm objects stand out well against cooler backgrounds, hence humans become easily visible against the environment.

Now, due to the miniaturization of electronic and electro-mechanical components, such infra-red cameras can be easily mounted onto inexpensive small unmanned aerial vehicles that can be used by the police forces to assist with public safety missions.

Although relatively few of such drones are currently flown over US soil, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that 30,000 drones will fill the nation's skies in less than 20 years.

However, some Members of Congress and the public fear there are insufficient safeguards in place to ensure that drones are not used to spy on American citizens and unduly infringe upon their fundamental privacy.

Proponents have responded by emphasizing their potential benefits, which may include protecting public safety, patrolling borders, and investigating and enforcing environmental and criminal law violations.

Clothes designer Adam Harvey  is one individual that falls into the former camp. It's clear that he thinks that thermal imaging systems mounted on drones are a threat to our civil liberties. And his concern with protecting the privacy of individuals has now led him to create a range of so-called 'Anti-Drone' garments designed with a fabric that apparently protects the wearer against thermal imaging surveillance.

They work by using highly metallized fibers to reflect heat, thereby masking the wearer's thermal signature. Of the three 'Anti-Drone' pieces that have been created so far, two are inspired by Muslim dress: the burqa and the scarf. A third piece -- the hoodie -- is intended to thwart overhead thermal surveillance from drones.

While I'm as concerned about protecting the privacy of the public as anyone else, I can't help but think that Mr. Harvey may not have thought his idea out quite as thoroughly as he should.


You see, while the metalized fiber burka shown above might well reduce the chances that an individual is spotted by a thermal imager mounted in a police drone, it will certainly increase the chances that the individual will be spotted by police on the ground, since he or she will stick out like a sore thumb.

Reference: Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative by Richard M. Thompson II.