Thursday, February 17, 2011

Viewdle Lets the Camera Recognize Your Friends

Via the Wall Street Journal ...

Few technologies have improved as steadily as digital cameras, long a standard feature in cellphones. But a new phase may be coming, as companies like Viewdle allow smartphones to recognize who is in a photograph as it’s taken.

The broader concept–a hot topic at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona–is called augmented reality. The term refers to overlaying labels, graphics and other information on images seen through a cellphone camera viewfinder.

In the prototypical scenario, a customer looking at goods on a shelf or walking by a restaurant could see reviews or product information superimposed on the display, allowing them to make smarter purchases. Many companies are working in the field and discussing developments this week, including metaio, a Munich-based software developer that also has offices in San Francisco.

Viewdle, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has been specializing in technology that could help apply information to faces. It has developed algorithms to recognize people in photographs and apply identifying tags–an automated alternative to the tagging that many users of Facebook and other sites do manually.

That’s not an entirely new trick. But it usually requires heavy-duty computing horsepower, often carried out by connecting to servers on the Internet in a process after a photo is taken.

Viewdle, which has grown since 2007 to 60 employees, believes it is breaking new ground in allowing smartphones to do these calculations on their own–and in real time, as faces come into a camera’s field of view. (Its software works by comparing faces it detects with images that have been previously stored and identified). The company’s website features a video of five women walking down the street toward the camera, with labels popping up that identify them and post their Facebook comments in real time.

Chip makers like augmented reality, in part because it takes a lot of computing cycles. Qualcomm, for instance, is an investor in Viewdle, which is making sure its software takes advantage of Qualcomm chips.

But Viewdle is not playing favorites. At the Barcelona event, the company is announcing a development kit to help software developers create apps that take advantage of its technology, and optimizing its software also to exploit Texas Instruments’ chips as well as Google’s popular operating system for cellphones. “It will run on all Android devices,” says Jason Mitura, Viewdle’s chief product officer.

When will consumers get to see the results? Viewdle will start by offering its own app, expected to be available in late March. Besides waiting for other apps to follow, the company is also trying to get handset makers to include the capability in their products, Mitura says.

Qualcomm, meanwhile, on Tuesday announced the winners in a contest it hosted for augmented reality applications, putting up $200,000 in total prize money. Taking first place, which entitled them to $125,000, were two men from Lithuania who developed an interactive game called Paparazzi. In it, the player looking through the smartphone viewfinder sees the superimposed image of a vain celebrity.

“You try to take a picture of the virtual guy,” says Jay Wright, a Qualcomm director of business development, before the celebrity gets agitated and attacks.

while anonymity does not equal privacy, the development of technologies like this lay bare the challenges that we face as a society in protecting our privacy and security in the digital age.


Courntey Kent said...

I find this idea very interesting. However there is one thing wrong in this article: it claims that tags on facebook are done completely manually. This is not entirely true. Often times facebook proivdes the names of your most recent or most commonly tagged friends first when you are tagging photos. Additionally, iphoto has created the ability to automatically recognize faces in your photos. And then these pictures from iphoto can then be exported to facebook.

I am interested to see how the public reacts to Viewdle. If it is done well, I could see this being the new "yelp" application.

Margot Annie Dale said...

While I do agree that this up and coming technology does pose a threat to anonymity, it can be argued that this is just a more high-tech way to have you identity exposed. The digital cameras in phones have been used for years now. And the ability to instantly upload these pictures to Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc. is being more and more widespread. With just two clicks of my Blackberry I can "Mobile Upload" anything on my phone camera, which I often do. This then takes us back to the constant discussion of the permanent nature of internet material. Once these pictures are uploaded, wether your face is automatically or manually tagged, you will still be permanently linked to this picture (even if you choose to "untag.")
However, I do agree that this technology is just diving deeper and deeper into the murky waters of what is really considered private. This technology requires the device to go back into private histories and to somehow, in obviously more technical terms, "Facebook stalk" the individual to find out their identity. I am curious to know how various Facebook privacy settings would factor in to this new technology's effectiveness.

So while we all know it is a pain in the ass to go through all 200 of your newly uploaded pictures tagging the same 20 people over and over again, I think that this technology seems a little unnecessary with respect to the possible damage/privacy infringements it could cause.

Diana said...

It is fascinating how smartphones can calculate faces by taking a picture. I did not know it was possible that smartphones can compare faces it detects with images that have been previously stored and identified. I was used to having my computer detect the faces of the pictures I upload. Also I have iphoto which also does the same thing. This shows how technology is advancing and companies needs to step their game up. I am very excited to see this new application and how people will react to it.

Anonymous said...

I bet were going to see more and more of this technology emerge. Hell, from what I hear (because I’m too cool for it) facebook now auto-tags people when you upload photos, and I’m not talking about you tagging one person and it does the rest, it does it all?!? Moore’s Law will definitely play a large part in the development of this technology - as the article explains, it is super memory hungry to run. But with more resistors and more memory I’m sure our phones will be augmenting more reality and auto tagging pictures the second we take them – I’m sure we’ll see a ton of cool new features, games, and web 2.0 goodies as well. But as with any increase in technology this can also be used and abused to put our privacy at risk. If a phone can detect our face can any facebook user be picked out of a crowd if a phone connected to the internet is pointed at them? Kinda scary, but as with all new technology were gonna use it, love it, and begin to care less about what it does to our privacy. #America.

Catherine Henry said...

This is a really interesting development but like many new features on smartphones and computers seems pretty pointless to me. I tend to be more skeptical than excited about new technologies before warming up to them but I find this one particularly frightening. It's bad enough that internet databases know my name, preferences, purchases- now they might be able to know my face? I'm comfortable with an actual human being tagging me in a picture because they recognize me, but if a computer is able to recognize me that means that I could be watched and identified without my knowledge. How much control do people have over autotagged pictures- can they be untagged? If I untag a picture manually, the picture will still exist on the internet, but only people who know me will know that it's me. I'm uncomfortable with my name still being linked to a picture I have untagged because the computer still knows it.

Shelby Bartemy said...

I agree with Dominic about the likely American response to this emerging technology. Currently, the general public does not seem overly concerned with infringements upon their privacy through increasing technology, if their lives are made "easier" by it. In this day and age, convenience is everything. The faster you can upload and tag your pictures, the more people that are able to view and comment on them, and the more satisfying your social media experience becomes. This reason of social pleasure is why most users have not objected to the auto tagging feature of Facebook, and have instead welcomed it. From personal experience, I can attest that my peers are frequent users of the facebook auto tag as it rapidly speeds up the uploading process and social media experience. Therefore, if this Viewdle technology is successful, I'm almost positive that the immediate consumer response will be of joy. Protecting privacy will most likely not even be considered, as the pleasure social networking aspect of this technology will take priority. Most users will prefer that their smart phones do recognize faces automatically and speed up their photo uploading, without a thought to how this could be abused. While this lack of privacy awareness can be prevented with informing users of potential risks, it is very likely that this technology will still be used regardless. Users have repeatedly proved that despite the risk, they will continue to share information online. America today is all about the increased instant connectivity, sharing this information and building relationships with each other. Any form of technology that can further these desires will surely be welcomed, regardless of the dangers.

Jen said...

I don’t think this technology is all that scary. It of course has its downfalls, like all technology does, but in regards to our control over our privacy I think it really helps. People might be worried that they are identified in a potentially embarrassing photograph that will be tagged of them on facebook. But at that point, you have the option to untag it. You’re immediately aware that it exists, and can take some sort of action. When this technology is not available, there might be embarrassing or compromising pictures of you on the internet that you are unaware of and are unable to take no action against. I’m inclined to think that technology like this puts more control in the user’s hands. Not to mention in realms outside of facebook, it sounds like an extremely helpful technology for the military or police force.

Elizabeth B said...

I have mixed feelings about the development of this technology in terms of privacy. This technology does save a lot of time and allows people to have a sort of scrap book without putting much effort into it. However, I always wonder about the hundreds of pictures that I must be in the background of that are now on the internet. Though at this time, Facebook only tags people who you are friends with in these photos, it could be very eerie to think about the day when photos can be tagged by people you do not know. You could know a complete stranger's name and personal information if they just happen to be in the same room as your photo. Hopefully this will never happen because this would be a complete disruption of privacy but since we have things like this and google earth, you never know.