Photo ULg-J.-L. Wertz
Le 15e jour du mois : During the presentation of the next festival ImagéSanté, Prof. Philippe Kohl announced the formation of a “digital image working group” (actually called “grappe image numérique”). What is this about ?
Jacques Verly : It was created and is called the “e-Mage” working group. Its mission is to promote the development of all sectors related to the acquisition, processing, synthesis, and broadcasting of digital images, as well as of auxiliary signals and information vectors, such as sound and text. Since September 2006, it regularly brings together the key academic and industrial players of the Liège area (the
“e-Magicians”...) to foster contacts, exchanges, and
It is in the late sixties and early seventies that “digital signal processing (DSP)” emerged as a major engineering discipline, driven by a few major research centers in the US, such as MIT and Bell Labs. “Digital image processing”, which is much more demanding in terms of memory and computing power, came later, principally motivated by the need to transmit and process the images taken by interplanetary probes. Let me mention that, for the engineer, images and videos are nothing more than signals with two and three dimensions, respectively!
The ULg and the Liège area have a long tradition in the field of digital signals and images. In the mid seventies, Prof. Guy Cantraine initiated research in image processing at the Montefiore Institute, developing, in particular, methods for digitizing photos (the name of one of his assistants was Limage ...). In 2000, the University created a new chair in digital signal processing and, today, the Montefiore Institute has four faculty members active in signals and images (Profs Jean-Jacques Embrechts, Justus Piater, Marc Vandroogenbroeck, and myself, all members of Intelsig). Many other activities in imaging exist at the ULg (Profs E. Pirard, P. Leclercq, A. Seret, A. Luxen, Drs C. Barbier, D. Derauw, etc). On the industrial side, Liège is fortunate to have, in the field of interest, not only companies with international reputation (EVS, Euresis, Deltatech, and XDC), but also recent spin-offs (Nomics, Occhio, Deios, etc).
One goal of the working group is to create a common showcase for all those involved in the world of digital images (and, more generally, signals) in the area, and to place our “fiery” City (“Cité ardente”) on the map of digital cities. The group will be present at national and international fairs, conferences, and other events; it should, in particular, participate in the ImagéSanté festival and the Spring of Sciences (“ Printemps des sciences ”) 2008.
Le 15e jour : Isn’t a Walloon “cluster” also in the process of being created in the same sector ?
J.V. : Obviously, some people share the feeling that the time has come to strengthen the position of Wallonia in the “ digital ” world. The walloon government is indeed in the process of setting up an organization (a “cluster”) named “Twist” (for Technologies of Wallonia for image, sound, and text). Its focal point will be digital cinematography and related multimedia activities. Twist will bring together the key people and companies of Wallonia in the fields of digital movie production, distribution, exploitation, and financing. On the technical side, let us mention special effects, the compression of movies, and their transmission to movie theaters. The
“cluster” should see the light of day next September: the ULg, the Interface, and the e-Mage group are among its founding members. A “cluster” is generally the first stage towards the formation of a “pole of competitivity”... why not called “Wallywood”? Are Twist and e-Mage redundant ? Not at all, because the walloon cluster will focus essentially on digital cinema and consumer multimedia, while the Liège group is interested in all aspects of digital images (and related signals), from remote sensing to microscopy, through cinema and medical imaging.
Even though one of the attractions of the Liège group is to present the activities of its members under a common umbrella, these activities will be organized by sectors, one of which will be that of Twist, i.e. principally digital cinema. This sector has already been foreseen as being a vector of growth for the Liège area, which already includes major players in the field (EVS, XDC, Digital graphics, etc). In addition, the Médiacité is emerging from the ground and one is cognizant of a real-estate complex called “Pôle Image”.Beyond cinema, digital signal and image processing constitutes an ideal sector of growth and employment for the Liège area and Wallonia. We are indeed almost in the Leuven-Einhoven-Aachen triangle of the “DSP Valley”, where over 5,000 engineers active in this field. In addition, the FPMs (Pr J. Hancq), the UCL (Pr B. Macq and L. Vandendorpe), the ULg (Intelsig, etc), and Multitel (Mons) constitute an exceptional concentration of expertise in the field.
Le 15e jour : Besides digital photography, now familiar to the public, what are the other, less well-known, applications of digital imaging ?
J.V. : Digital cameras, with their steadily increasing numbers of pixels are, indeed, only the tip of the iceberg of digital images (and signals).To the risk of simplifying too much, digital imaging has five major aspects: acquisition, processing, interpretation, synthesis, and visualization. While the acquisition of an image with a digital camera already represents a challenge from an electronic standpoint, the formation of MRI, CT, and radar images represents even bigger algorithmic and technological challenges, some having in fact led to Nobel prizes. One example of processing is the coding (MPEG, JPEG, etc) of images/videos, without which their storage and transmission (Internet, GSM, etc) would be difficult. The interpretation of images/videos is critical for robotic vision, autonomous vehicles, and automatic medical diagnostics. On the synthesis side, one can cite computer-generated movies and special effects. Finally, visualization includes 3D, stereo, and virtual immersion.
Our group (Intelsig) develops algorithms that automatically analyze videos of soccer matches; we are close to instantly detecting events such as off-sides. We use similar techniques in video-surveillance. We also develop neuro-navigation techniques, in which a computer analyzes images taken before and during surgery to guide the surgeon towards a lesion while handling brain “deformations”. We work with the CSL on radar imaging, which allows one to create “images” of the Earth in all weather conditions, and we organize international conferences in the field of imaging in aviation, where infrared and radar imagers will soon appear that will allow the pilot to visualize the runway and possible obstacles even during a snow storm. Clearly, the imagination of the “e-Magicians“ of signal and image processing seems endless...
Text by Patricia Janssens (traduction Jacques Verly)