Is a picture worth a thousand search words?

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

Selecting the right Internet search words can be frustrating. But thanks to broader bandwidth and better picture-recognition technology, future searches may be image- or video-driven

“There’s a long history of search engines that have tried to use images,, says Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy for the Local Search Association, an industry association of media companies, agencies and technology providers. “Visual search was seen as more directly delivering information than text. Maybe it was a technology thing or timing thing, but they didn’t quite find the right model.”

As smart phones began reshaping the Internet landscape—some 340 million were shipped in the second quarter of 2015 alone—pre-existing visual search engines such as Grokker, Viewzi and SearchMe floundered. Yet the proliferation of smart phones and tablets may have increased demand because their small screens are more suited to pictures than text.

Visual is definitely one path forward for search,” Mr. Sterling says. At the moment, when searching for a particular product, “unless you have a specific brand name, it’s hard and frustrating clicking back and forth to different sites.”

An image search “will confirm quickly if it’s what you’re looking for, plus provide customer reviews and other product information,” Mr. Sterling says.


However, image search is not so straightforward. You take a photograph and use it to search related information, but success depends on the angle, light and focus of the photo.

“In the future, maybe it will be the case where you snap a picture of a landmark and get all the information about it,” he says. “What’s open for improvement is using a camera to get information. Inputting a 16-digit credit card number into a small screen on a phone is problematic. You mistype. Today, you can take a picture of the credit card and certain apps will recognize it and process it into the form.”

Images by themselves probably aren’t the future. “Look for a mix of images and structured data, finding what images are, finding other related things and organizing that information with tags and other data,” Mr. Sterling says. “There’s more and more sophistication in how you identify and index, with machine learning and other technology that exists behind the scenes that could apply to a pure text or image model.”

Researchers are working to improve the technological foundations for image searches. A group of universities is developing ImageNet, a database of 14 million images that attaches images to nouns.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Torresani, associate professor of computer science at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, has helped create a machine-learning algorithm that uses images to find documents. However, only a few users annotate their uploaded pictures and videos, and not necessarily accurately. “The repository is expanding at an astonishing rate, but we can’t retrieve content efficiently,” Dr. Torresani says.

Software can check whether the searched-for objects are in a picture, and if so automatically tags them. “It works, but has limitations,” Dr. Torresani says. “It’s difficult to expose all the content in the picture with predefined classes. And if you use predefined classes, then the search is only accessible through those keywords.”

Another way is to extract some visual features, like a visual signature, that allows users to search by example. Alternatively, software could translate key words into the visual signature, because users are accustomed to searching via text. This would work like language translation software, but translating from text to image instead.

“It could be used to find images or videos that are similar in context or appearance, and link them somehow,” Dr. Torresani says. “It could make the repositories browsable.”

Video is the bigger challenge. “One second of video has 30 images,” he says. “The amount of data we need to analyze a one-minute video is huge. Storage is a problem. Retrieval is a problem. Processing is a problem.”

Yet “even if the recognition process fails on one or two images, we have so many of them and the view maybe changes and the object that was ambiguous becomes clearer later in the video,” Dr. Torresani says. “From that point of view, video is easier than a still image.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.

Photos courtesy of iStock

How Social Innovation turns into Mobility for all

By Jacques

Last week I was at the French startup event LeWeb’12 to get some fresh ideas about digital marketing trends on the startup scene. The theme of this year was the IoT aka the “Internet of Things”, so you could find many connected devices : smartphones, thermostats, watches, drones, headsets, weight or blood trackers that were all mobile and connected things. So why not connect these geeky devices to more familiar transportation & mobility products? IF WE connect internet and transportation, can it offer innovative and profitable mobility concepts?

I was there in my reflexions when I saw the Renault booth at LeWeb and just decided to chat with them to share ideas. And since I had my smartphone with me, I used it to record this impromptu one shot video, so pardon its low quality.

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Getting people back to work thanks to the Mobility community

I met with Florent d’Yvoire, who is project manager on the Renault-MOBILIZ Social Business project to know more about mobility innovation. Our main discussion was about the Renault-MOBILIZ which I found very innovative but not on technology as we usually expect, but more on the business side: This project was born at the Corporate Social Responsibility department of Renault with a vision: looking for sustainable ways to help the poorest benefit from an affordable mobility, so that they can find work and get out of poverty. Beyond that, the innovation is also in the business model that is inspired by the microcredit concept developed by Muhammad Yunus so that it can ensure the financial viability of the project.

In this context the Renault-MOBILIZ program is looking for more connections within the transportation and mobility community of professionals: they are looking for partnerships with entreprises and citizens on providing products, services, and assistance in getting driver’s licenses. Dassault Systèmes can certainly help with its communication to transportation & mobility professionals. More to come on this…

A car-sharing pilot with electric cars

Renault also launched Twizyway, an innovative car-sharing concept in the Paris area with 50 Twizy. These 100% battery-driven cars are beautiful, fun and safe to drive. They are available all day and are tracked and booked via smartphone apps. People use these cars then leave them in the location of their convenience to ensure maximum flexibility for drivers. Customers just scan a QR Code on the windshield and go. So this is quite similar to the Autolib project deployed near there in Paris, but with less constraints at first glance.

Digital apps on the dashboard of your car

The final topic presented by Renault was the second edition of their “call for apps” that will be installed on the dashboard of future cars in a tablet called R-Link. New Zoe and Clio models will benefit from them , Renault was there to call for startups willing to develop new services on their infrastructure.

Renault’s motto is “Drive the change”, now you can see why!  What about you, how would you match internet and transportation yourself? Do you see the digitalization of the world as an opportunity for new mobilities?

Thanks for posting your view in the “comments” field below



Jacques Bidault is Industry Marketing Director, Transportation and Mobility at Dassault Systèmes



Designers are Experience Architects, says Brian Solis at LeWeb’12

By Aurelien

Last week was held LeWeb’12, likely the largest European event for Internet-related technologies. This year, the theme of the event was Internet of Things (IoT). I enjoyed in particular the inspiring speech from Altimeter Group analyst Brian Solis on how IoT is changing behaviors through experiences. Brian shared several examples from the field of IoT where products go beyond utility by providing experiences that change behaviors. Designing such experiences that include a lot of embedded systems intelligence will be a whole new domain, as Brian stated:

Experience Architecture is all brand new, it’s a blank canvas. It’s something that you [designers, developers…] get to decide. It’s your vision, it’s your purpose, that actually gets us to align behind you.

As he was addressing designers, developers, and entrepreneurs in the room, Brian concluded:

You are not just developing products, services and solutions. You can be an Experience Architect to help me change the way I live my life.

Watch the full video record from Brian Solis at LeWeb’12 below. Or if you prefer to read, see this live blogging recap of the same.

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