Professor Andrew Blake FREng FRS, described as “the leading image analysis researcher of his generation”, is to receive The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Silver Medal for his outstanding contribution to British engineering and commercial development.

Professor Blake’s principal technical achievements are in visual segmentation and reconstruction, and in visual motion tracking. These areas of work address two of the major challenges in computer vision – the automatic interpretation of images, especially understanding spatial relationships, and modelling dynamical processes.

In 1996, Professor Blake and collaborator Michael Isard invented new ways of visual motion tracking through their groundbreaking ‘Condensation’ algorithm based on probabilistic reasoning, which enabled computers– for the first time - to keep up with rapid motion in a busy video scene.

In 1999, he was headhunted by Roger Needham, the founder of Microsoft’s research laboratories in Cambridge. He resigned his Chair at the University of Oxford to set up a Computer Vision group in the belief that computer vision had reached a stage of sufficient maturity to be ripe for mainstream commercial exploitation.

As Principal Research Scientist for Microsoft Research, each of the two areas of Professor Blake’s expertise is having a significant impact on Microsoft products, by incorporating advanced technology into established software tools and devices.

Says nominating Fellow and former colleague, Professor David Clarke, “Since 1999 he has built up a group in the Microsoft Research Laboratory with both research and development capability. This has led to smart interactive graphics technology, Digital Image, already installed on millions of desktops worldwide with technology in two further products in the pipeline. The technology underlying these products is protected by twenty-two US and worldwide patents, filed between 2000 and 2005.”

In addition to Digital Image, advanced techniques developed by Professor Blake’s research team underpin Expression, a new development suite for graphic designers and web designers. Expression incorporates innovative tools such as automatic erasure, which replaces a removed object with texture generated from its original surroundings and automatic segmentation, which allows the user to ‘lasso’ an object in an image, cutting it free exactly along its outline, ready to slide into a new position or drop it into a new image altogether. Expression has been released in preview form, and commercial release is expected next year.

The further invention under development is a new type of camera, which it is hoped will improve the experience of teleconferencing from the awkward, jerky experience it is at present, to something so seamless and natural that the need to travel for meetings will be much reduced. The camera is stereoscopic, which allows it to sense in three dimensions separating foreground from background, just like human vision. It can then act as if it were being controlled by a cameraman, following a moving subject automatically and zooming in on it. An added touch is the automatic privacy protection of the speaking subject, whose environment is screened out and replaced with an anonymous background.

Professor Blake will receive his Silver Medal, which is only awarded to engineers aged under 50, at the Academy’s Awards Dinner in London on 05 June 2006.

Notes for editors

  1. The Academy’s Silver Medals, instigated in 1995, are awarded annually to engineers aged 50 or under who have made outstanding contributions to British engineering. Up to four awards may be given each year.
  2. This year’s other Silver Medals go to: Professor Lionel Tarassenko, University of Oxford; Dr Simon Gallimore of Rolls-Royce plc and Dr Ian McEwan of Brinker Technology Ltd.
  3. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Amy Abbott, Manager, Events and Awards, The Royal Academy of Engineering