Pioneering the next generation of imaging: from pixels to perception
Much information is lost when we take a photograph: the difference in brightness between pitch-black and staring into the sun is far less significant on screen or on paper than when the human eye experiences it directly; near and far objects don’t have the same level of focus or detail; colour gets lost. This is unfortunate for ‘selfies’ or holiday snaps, but becomes a big problem when looking for enemy vehicles in military satellite imaging, or when using cameras to find signs of serious illnesses.
Professor Finlayson specialises in the processing pipeline from taking a picture to seeing it on a screen. His work has improved the quality of pictures by developing programmes and algorithms to advance techniques including tone-mapping, illuminant estimation, dynamic range compression and image fusion. His work is helping to create the next generation of imaging but the ability to create more detail and depth in pictures has many potential applications – it is a platform technology, so his work does not end there.
Spinout company, Imsense, focused on digital imaging for use in mobile phones and raised £2 million in venture capital. A demo app reached top spot for photo processing in several countries, with over 100,000 downloads.
Imsense was subsequently bought by a major bluechip company from the US. It was the first spinout at UEA to raise venture capital and bring returns to the institution in its 50 year history. This helped Professor Finlayson and his industry collaborators, and also allowed UEA to build on the experience and establish better support for other commercialisation projects.
Spectral Edge, Professor Finlayson’s latest spinout, developed technology to modify images so that colourblind people are better able to see colours, with no detriment to non-colourblind people. The technology works for moving images and has been integrated into television set-top boxes.
Spectral Edge is paving the way towards ever more exciting innovations: modern cameras are able to record what the naked eye can’t see: infrared and heat. Spectral Edge uses this to create multi-layered image fusion for even clearer, more beautiful pictures.
These commercialisation activities have opened up space for Professor Finlayson to conduct further research, making new discoveries through the company. Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of commercialisation, he concludes: “If I was advising a young academic I would say look at the medium and long term and see ‘is this going to be good for your research on those timescales?’”