Saarbrücken computer scientists make augmented reality photorealistic

Since the mobile game "Pokemon Go" entranced more than 75 million people within a few days, "augmented reality" is back in the spotlight again. Here, pictures or videos from a real-life area are augmented with computer-generated information, which is overlaid or blended into the image. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics have now developed software with which this information can be so photorealistically presented that the difference from the real image is no longer discernible. The researchers from Saarbrücken are confident that this is a quantum leap for AR applications.

Pokémon Go, a game for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, has given "augmented reality" technology a renewed boost. Computer scientists from Saarbrücken have now brought this technology to a new level, as they no longer overlay the real digital image with visual information, but rather alter the image in a way that looks realistic.

"The color value that a camera assigns during a recording to individual points of an image, so-called pixels, is, to simplify somewhat, always the product of reflection and lighting," explains Christian Theobalt, leader of the group "Graphics, Vision & Video" at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and professor of Computer Science at Saarland University. "But the problem is that the two components of this calculation are contained only indirectly in the image and are therefore not measurable," according to Theobalt. Together with Max Planck researchers Abhimitra Meka and Michael Zollhöfer, as well as Christian Richardt, who works at the University of Bath, he resolves this problem in a special way. The software developed by the researchers can even do this in real time for every pixel of an image coming from a conventional webcam. The demonstrator's setup is simple, which only makes the result more impressive: a young woman stands in a room in front of a moveable whiteboard and a large plant. She wears a red T-shirt with a wide, white logo. A webcam is filming her, but on the connected monitor the T-shirt is shown in a completely different color, blue. It's the only difference that can be seen between the scene in the room and the one on the screen.

"Since for each pixel we estimate the lighting and degree of reflection at lightning speed, and we change only one of the two factors, the realistic impression is maintained," explains Theobalt. The estimate is based on mathematical optimization methods. Since the software computes these in parallel, the changes can be made so quickly that they are possible even with live recordings. And the software doesn't stop at colors. When the scientists modify the degree of reflection, this can give the impression of different materials. Thus the software can transform a cotton shirt being filmed, at the time of the broadcast, so that it looks like a velvet shirt.

"At the moment, no other method does this so quickly and uses only a simple camera," explains Abhimitra Meka, who developed the software as part of his doctoral work at Saarland University. The Saarbrücken scientists are therefore particularly excited to know in what applications the software could find use. The computer game and fashion industries naturally come to mind. According to Theobalt, e-commerce could also benefit from it: "Imagine you are thinking about a new sofa in a different color. With our program, you could check whether the color you are thinking of fits well with the lighting in your living room. You wouldn't even have to get up to do this."

Background: Saarland Informatics Campus

At the core of the Saarland Informatics Campus is the Department of Computer Science at Saarland University. In the immediate vicinity on the campus are seven other world-renowned research institutes. Besides the two Max Planck Institutes for Informatics and Software Systems, they are the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the Center for Bioinformatics, the Intel Visual Computing Institute, the Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability (CISPA), and the Cluster of Excellence "Multimodal Computing and Interaction".

Further Information:

Video and paper

Questions can be directed to:
Prof. Dr. Christian Theobalt
Max Planck Institute for Informatics
Saarland Informatics Campus
Tel.: +49 681 9325 4028

Dr. Michael Zollhöfer
Max Planck Institute for Informatics
Saarland Informatics Campus
Tel.: +49 681 9325 4019

Gordon Bolduan
Competence Center Computer Science Saarland
Tel: +49 681 302 70741

Press release in print version (pdf)

Friederike Meyer zu Tittingdorf
Tel. 0681 302-3610

Presse und Kommunikation
Campus, Gebäude A2 3
66123 Saarbrücken

Tel. 0681 302-2601
Fax 0681 302-2609

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