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This press release is being posted by NeSC on behalf of the STFC

Grid helps find one picture in a million

Looking for images on the internet can be a frustrating business. Whether you want the perfect sunset over the sea or the London skyline by night, you're dependent on people to describe the images on their web pages. Now Imense Ltd, a high-tech Cambridge start-up, has announced new investment to help them become the 'Google' of image searching, using their revolutionary technology. To test their software, they've made an unexpected partnership with a group of particle physicists using a massive computer Grid.

Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) describes how this happened "We actively encourage the researchers we fund to consider the wider applications of the work they do. In this case, computing problems that had to be addressed for particle physics can also be used to solve other challenges with large amounts of data. The Council's Knowledge Exchange Service put the two teams together and provided modest funding to start them off - the new investment attracted by Imense represents a ten-fold return on the initial development funds."

Images and video make up over 70% of the digital data available on the Internet, an estimated 15 billion images, but traditional search engines can't index this information directly, instead relying on text descriptions entered by hand.  Imense's key innovation is a new form of image retrieval that automatically analyses images in terms of their content, without the need for human generated captions. They have also developed a powerful query language that lets people search for the images they need.

Dr David Sinclair, one of the founders of Imense Ltd, explains, "We built a prototype of our new image analysis and search technology, but simply weren't able to test our software on sufficiently large numbers of photos. We knew we could search tens of thousands of pictures, but couldn't afford to try it on hundreds of thousands or millions of images. This made it difficult for Imense to get the investment we needed to develop a commercially viable product. That's where our partnership with the particle physics Grid came in."

Spread across 17 sites, the UK particle physics Grid (GridPP) has been built to analyse the petabytes of data expected from Europe 's newest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. But its 8000 computers have also been shared with other researchers, from geophysicists to biologists. Last year, Sinclair attended a meeting arranged by STFC about Grid opportunities for industry, and realized that Grid technology could be the answer to Imense's problem. Image analysis is a naturally parallel process which fits perfectly with the capabilities of the Grid used by STFC scientists to process data in particle physics.

Professor Andy Parker, Director of the eScience Centre, University of Cambridge , led the particle physics team working with Imense, "Our team helped Imense develop their software to run on the Grid using a tool called Ganga , and supported them as they analysed three million images. We also dealt with issues such as security and working with Grid managers at other universities, who were very helpful. It went very smoothly and was fascinating to see the company start-up process in action."

Imense have now reaped the rewards of their Grid experience, with an investment of more than £500,000 to help them bring a product or service to market in the coming months. Dr Sinclair says that the Grid played a major role in this, "Our work with the Grid has let us demonstrate that our software can handle millions of images, at a time when we were a small company and couldn't supply the computing power needed ourselves. This in turn impressed the investors we spoke to, and led to funding for our company." Imense plans to use the open source Grid technologies from the particle physics domain in its commercial product.

Alex Efimov led the brokering work for STFC's Knowledge Exchange Service and companies wishing to know more should contact him on the number below.

Notes for Editors

Image
A screenshot of a sample search is available from Julia Maddock.
Julia Maddock
Press Officer
Science and Technology Facilities Council Tel +44 1793 442094 Julia.maddock@stfc.ac.uk

Imense's work with the Cambridge e-Science Centre was funded through an STFC mini-PIPSS award. PIPSS is a knowledge transfer scheme that supports the development of effective, long term collaborations between UK Universities, research bodies and industry. See http://www.stfc.ac.uk/KE/FOpp/PIPSS/pipss.aspx or contact Alex Efimov at alex.efimov@qi3.co.uk  +44 (0) 1223 422405

Imense Ltd. (formerly Cambridge Ontology) is a high-tech start-up company based in Cambridge . It is focused on turning novel research on content-based image retrieval into a commercial success. It was founded by Dr. David Sinclair and Dr. Chris Town. See http://www.camtology.com/ or contact Dr David Sinclair at david.sinclair@camtology.com

GridPP is a collaboration of twenty UK universities and research institutes, building and operating a computing Grid for particle physics. It is funded by STFC, with additional associated funding from HEFCE, SHEFC and the European Union. See http://www.gridpp.ac.uk

Science and Technology Facilities Council The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

  • The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire
  • The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire
  • The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma , Hawaii , Australia and in Chile , and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Council distributes public money from the Government to support scientific research.  Between 2007 and 2008 we will invest over £700 million.

 

 
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