Locally developed app software etches out images in real time

Locally developed app software etches out images in real time
The Snapclip app - the first app to use Intelligent Scribbles - allows users to take videos of themselves, pause at a certain frame, and erase the background behind. A user can then choose one of Snapclip's pre-programmed backgrounds to make the subjects look like they are in a movie poster or comic book.

Photobombers beware - unwanted faces can now be removed from photographs, thanks to a locally made software.

Called Intelligent Scribbles, the software allows an object in an image to be etched out in real time, unlike most other software where you would need to wait a few seconds for the pixels to render.

When the software is used in a smartphone app, it just requires a user to move his finger within the boundaries of the object he would like to etch out.

"With everyone on-the-go these days, it is important to make mobile functions faster as users get impatient easily," said researcher Niu Zeping, who developed the technology at the Advanced Digital Sciences Center, a joint centre established by the University of Illinois and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

The software intelligently detects the boundaries of the image a user is trying to etch out, based on colour contrast.

"Human fingers might not be so accurate in colouring within the boundaries all the time, so this is very useful," said Mr Niu.

The key to the faster technology lies in an algorithm that Mr Niu and his four colleagues spent eight months developing. This algorithm works with the smartphone's graphic processing unit to make image processing faster.

In most photo-editing applications, pixels are rendered sequentially from left to right. The algorithm speeds up the process by rendering the pixels in a parallel sequence and in real time, he explained.

While using a smartphone's graphic processing unit to accelerate the speed of image processing is not new, this use has not been implemented in photo-editing apps, claimed Mr Niu, who tested close to 60 photo-editing apps on the market last June.

The Snapclip app is the first app to use Intelligent Scribbles. Instead of using it to just remove faces, Snapclip has the software to place etched-out subjects onto a new background.

Snapclip was launched on Apple's App Store earlier this week. It allows users to take videos of themselves, pause at a certain frame and erase the background behind. It also works on photos.

Users can then choose one of Snapclip's pre-programmed backgrounds to make them look like they are in a movie poster or comic book.

These edited images can then be posted on social networks such as Facebook.

"This would introduce so much fun to the video selfies that we take," said Mr Ali Kurtze, founder of Basilo Labs, which developed the Snapclip app. The app will also be available for Android devices in June.

Besides Intelligent Scribbles, Mr Niu is developing another software algorithm which can make still pictures come to life. For example, it will animate objects such as branches and water in a landscape painting.

Using mathematical models which chart how water flows and trees sway in the wind, he has managed to make some landscape pictures "move" in a life-like manner with a computer.

Said Mr Niu: "We will have to figure out how to make it work on a smartphone, given its limited processing capability."

kashc@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 16 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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