Photo software could put crime scenes in focus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am


The image of crime-fighting technology just got a lot sharper with the unveiling yesterday of home-grown software designed to take the blur out of digital photos.

Professor Jia Jiaya and his team from Chinese University's department of computer science and engineering have developed software that they say will allow police to make out licence plate numbers from blurred images of vehicles. It can also be used to focus in on and clarify the faces of suspects pictured running from a crime scene.

Jia has presented the results of his research to the Hong Kong Police Force. If the two parties reach a deal, the technology could be used in surveillance in the city within a year.

'This is a breakthrough in image-restoration technology.... You can discover more information than even presented to your eyes,' Jia said.

Traditional imaging software - or sharpening tools - works by increasing the contrast of individual pixels, making the darks darker and the lights lighter so the eye sees more edges.

'It makes you think it's sharper, but it's really not,' fellow researcher Dr Xu Li said.

Jia's technology, however, first tries to determine how an image was blurred, deciding whether it was the photographer's hand or the subject that moved. The software then creates a model that reverses the blurred pixels' path of motion until it arrives at what it thinks is the clear image.

'For a blurred image, we have an infinite number of possible solutions, but we find the probability for a particular choice,' Jia said. And the most probable choice wins.

According to the researchers, the software can increase the clarity of even low-resolution photographs by up to 100 times in less than 10 seconds.

Jia's software is not the only image-refining software to roll out in the past year.

Just last month, Adobe Photoshop demonstrated its own deblurring technology at a developer conference in Los Angeles; but the software may not be available to consumers for one to two years.

Jia has spent the past year and a half developing his software and has filed for patents in the United States and the mainland. He's also offered Adobe the algorithms behind the software, which he thinks creates sharper images than that of the software developer.

The technology could have applications beyond crime fighting and everyday photography - historians might be able to use it to sharpen text on old documents, and medical technicians could potentially apply it to blurred medical images.