By Eric Auchard
Swedish start-up Polar Rose AB aims to make it easy to find photos of
familiar faces online, the company said on Tuesday, solving difficult
Web search issues while potentially raising new privacy concerns.
Polar Rose said it plans to offer free software to make photos
searchable on both personal computers and across the Web by analyzing
the contents of pictures with pattern recognition technology to locate
specific faces within them.
The company said it will allow users to annotate photos with
descriptive details, harnessing the collective intelligence of the Web
to improve what can be done with computational searching alone on
sites like Google or Yahoo.
Polar Rose, which takes its name from a flower-shaped mathematical
curve used to plot two-dimensional coordinates, will help consumers to
label any photo and in turn to search for related photos of the same
or similar-looking people.
"Now we are in the visual era of the Web," Mikkel Thagaard, Polar
Rose's vice president of business development. "That will have
implications for the kind of information we find."
In its simplest incarnation, Polar Rose promises to help a computer
user sort through and group personal photos face by face. More
broadly, the software can ferret out similar-looking photos across the
Web, company officials said.
Its software analyzes digital photos to locate faces, then converts
the data from two-dimensional (2D) images into 3D models. These
skeletal models can be rendered into what scientists call
Polar Rose does not store actual photos, only the faceprint summaries,
which can then be compared with other faceprints. This promises to
allow the company to create a massive searchable index for comparing
and cataloging digital images.
FUN AND OPEN
"You can label photos by name, or find them by their faceprint
signature," said Jan Erik Solem, Polar Rose's founder and chief
technology officer, said in an interview.
Solem said Polar Rose will only search through and catalog publicly
available photographs on the Web, not private databases. It also has
ruled out selling its technology for use in surveillance or by
intelligence agencies, he added.
"We just want to build a fun, open and transparent service," Solem
said. "I can guarantee you that we will not touch those areas."
But in one dramatic example of the search system's power, Thagaard
showed a photo of a woman on an online dating site and said Polar Rose
technology could potentially be used to identify photos of similar
looking women from across the Web.
"Marriages are going to fail because of this technology," Gartner Inc.
analyst Mike McGuire said.
In March, Polar Rose plans to offer a public test version of its
software. In the second quarter, it aims to introduce a mobile phone
photo search version and, by third quarter, to complete an index of
publicly available photos on the Web.
The privately held company from Malm, Sweden plans to extend its
pattern-recognition capabilities beyond just faces to recognize
objects like landmarks, or dogs and cats. Eventually, it also plans to
search videos as well.
Still, McGuire questions whether the technology is simply a cool
feature to enhance other Web sites or something more. "Right now it is
probably a pretty powerful ingredient rather than a business of its
own," he said.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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