Brand identity

An image recognition system that can ‘see’ like a human has been developed to help companies empirically track the presence of their brand on television and online.

BrandTrack, a new service from Imperial College spin out Cortexica Vision Systems, mimics the way neurons in the brain recognise an image. A computer with a graphic processing unit, similar to the one inside a Microsoft Xbox 360, contains hundreds of computational units designed to act as neurons.

Co-developer of the technology Jeffrey Ng explained that a human eye converts light information from an image into electrical signals. These signals travel to the back of the brain to an area called the primary visual cortex.

‘That is where the neurons take pixel values and convert them into storage patterns,’ he said.

Ng has demonstrated that the patterns can be simulated with computational units and stored as a ‘cortical keypoint file’ in computer hardware.

Just like a human, the computer is able to recognise an image even if it is partially covered, rotated, under different lighting conditions or varying in scale.

Ng said this is possible as the computer only stores several visually interesting points of the image. This, he added, is similar to humans.

‘For us humans, we just need to fixate or look at a few tiny points in the image,’ he said. ‘We already know the gist of it.’

Backed by Imperial Innovations, BrandTrack technology is being prepared for launch later this year as a service for companies wishing to keep track of brands in the media.

Melville Carrie, vice-president of product management at Cortexica, said a company would provide an image of its brand and this would be inputted into their computer. Multiple TV channels and media images would stream continuously through the computer. Any time the brand image pops up, it would be recorded.

‘We could, for example, push the Coca-Cola logo through our system and find that logo in every footage continuously for the next seven years across seven channels,’ added Carrie.

Carrie said companies can log onto Cortexica’s website and track the number of sightings of their logo on a daily basis.

He added the logo is also measured with a Cortexica derived marker known as ‘see impact’. The see impact includes elements such as where the logo appears on the screen, its orientation, inclusion time and saliency.

‘Our see impact can be measured by a factor of zero to one,’ he said. ‘So it goes from zero to zero to one with two decimal place increments. It gives an empirical baseline for brand managers and industry researchers.’

Carrie added the technology replaces the current subjective and human-intensive process of recording a brand’s presence in the media.

‘Currently, there are people with clipboards who sit and look frame-by-frame at a television show for the Pepsi logo, for example,’ he said.

He claimed that there is no other automated service like BrandTrack on the market, and Cortexica hopes to run a beta version of it in the autumn. A full launch, said Carrie, could be at the end of 2009 or early 2010.

Siobhan Wagner