I got a press release today from Polar Rose, a new company promising to bring facial recognition technology to those seeking images from across the web. In other words, want to find all the pictures of Bill Clinton? Polar Rose says it will make it happen through a browser plug-in that works with existing photo services, as well as through partnerships. If this sounds familiar, I’ll revisit Riya’s recent foray and back away from facial recognition.
The full press release is below. In short, Polar Rose says that sometime between January 1 and March 31 of next year, they’ll release a browser plug-in. Install this, and you can then apparently tap into image search engines such as Google Images or Yahoo’s Flickr and bring back results that match the faces of the people you are looking for.
TechCrunch has a nice screenshot showing what I assume is the plug-in being used to tag faces in Flickr for within the Polar Rose service. It doesn’t really show how the service will reshape results at a place like Flickr.
Facial recognition is said to be done by making 3D models of faces spotted in images. In addition to automatic matching, the system will also use user training. This will likely be similar to what’s shown in the screenshot, where people are asked to manually tag faces. Get enough people tagging faces, and that can be added to improve the algorithmic guesses that are made.
Of course, this story sounds similar to Riya. That service kicked off in March of this year, asking people to upload photos and tag them, to build a facial recognition database. Soon after, Riya changed to become a general web image search service, which remains operating at Riya.com. But most efforts shifted again in November to focus on image recognition tied to fashion products via the Like.com site.
Before Riya launched, Google was rumored to be interested in acquiring it. That didn’t happen, and Google later acquired another image recognition company, Neven Vision. Google has yet to roll anything out approaching facial or image recognition, however, simply promising general features to come.
The most substantial image matching service Google has released recently was the Google Images Labeler game, which I’ve covered more here. Aside from that, Google added search features to Picasa Web Albums this week, including I believe the new ability to tag photos. Picasa Web Albums have only been offered to the general public for three months (and a more limited group since June), and Google is clearly rapidly shaping the service up to challenge Flickr. But image recognition, despite the Neven Vision acquisition, has yet to roll in.
That brings us back to Polar Rose. Despite literally years of excitement and anticipation over facial recognition, so far no one has had a consumer hit with it. Riya’s attempt clearly didn’t catch on. Perhaps Polar Rose will have more luck. Aside from browser plug-ins, the company also hopes to convince partners to embed its technology into their services. Few search technology companies have had much success with the "add us in" approach, so that’s another big watch and see. Even larger will be the actual beta launch. I’m always wary of announcements before anyone can actually play with the technology. Let’s get the beta out there released to anyone, then we’ll all be better able to tell how useful Polar Rose really is.
Here’s the press release:
Polar Rose Launches Visionary Search for Online Photos
New Technology Enables Advanced Face Recognition for Every Photo on the Web; Automatically Enhances Photo Search and Web Albums to Create a New Way of Discovering Information
December 20, 2006 – Malmö, Sweden – Polar Rose, a company uniquely combining automatic face recognition with 3D modeling for visual search applications, today announced its product and an open beta trial, beginning in Q1 of 2007 at http://www.polarrose.com.
Using Polar Rose’s technology, it will now be possible to automatically search for and recognize faces on a consistent basis similar to the way people do – by using the visual cues of the photo as opposed to nearby text analysis. The company’s unique technology creates a 3D model from a single 2D image of a face. This approach radically improves photo matching by compensating for variations in lighting, facial emotions and pose.
Available as a free Web browser plug-in and through royalty-free APIs (Application Programming Interface) for partner integration, Polar Rose will seamlessly enhance the experience of browsing and searching for photos of people. Polar Rose, which is also the name of a flower-shaped mathematical curve used as a logo mark by the company, will augment any site with true people search and enable linked data discovery in connection with a person in any photo.
A search for “Peter Jackson