Google's 'Omega Man' Street View Solution

Google has come up with a drastic solution to the privacy problem posed by litigious Americans appearing in their Street View scenes: remove every pedestrian from every picture.


(Google Street View vanishing pedestrian)

Google's Street View vans use nine roof-mounted cameras to take regular shots of the scene around them. These are then stitched together to produce a near-seamless panoramic view. But automatically removing people from thousands of varied images, each showing different scenes, is a challenge.

Flores's software first has to detect any pedestrians in a scene. This is done using a standard object-recognition algorithm called implicit shape model (ISM), which was developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. "The idea is to find a rough contour of pedestrians," says Bastian Leibe, a codeveloper of ISM who is now at RWTH Aachen University. Because there is so much variability in human appearance, the algorithm takes a probabilistic approach--looking for similarities between the shapes in images and hundreds of images of pedestrians that it has been trained to recognize.

Once a pedestrian has been identified and cut from an image, the hole left behind has to be filled in. Flores's software does this by using photographs captured before and after the image in question by Google's Street View vans.

The first time that I ever saw an American city in full detail - but without any people in it - was in the 1972 movie classic The Omega Man. Charleton Heston plays the Google Street View driver in this opening scene.


(Heston drives through an empty city)

Via Technology Review.

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