Face recognition firm to launch Web service in Q2

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Swedish start-up Polar Rose plans to make its face recognition service publicly available on the Web in the second quarter of 2008 as it tries to become a must-have tool for sorting visual content.

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The firm says its technology can pick out faces in the swelling crowd of images on the Internet, thereby making digital photos indexable just like text documents.

“2008 is going to be the year where we go fully public and experiment with some business models,” Chief Executive Nikolaj Nyholm told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on Wednesday.

Polar Rose’s free software for making photos searchable is available as a browser plug-in and will also be embedded on partner Web sites. It aims to integrate the system on the first partner sites next month.

Existing search functions on the Web generally find images by scanning text attached to pictures. That system, however, falls down if the tagging is wrong or absent.

Polar Rose’s technology scans the image itself and converts the data from two-dimensional (2D) images into 3D models. These skeletal models can be rendered into so-called “faceprints”, which are then stored and indexed.

It should allow users of services like Yahoo’s online photo-sharing site Flickr to sort and group personal photos face by face. More broadly, it will let people find similar-looking photos across the Web.

With the number of images on the Web doubling every seven to eight months, the opportunity is great and Polar Rose is confident its know-how will win backing from advertisers. The system has been in beta testing since last July.

But the small outfit is not alone, with Google among those on its tail. The Internet giant bought rival photo-recognition firm Neven Vision 18 months ago.

Nyholm thinks his company has an edge. “They (Google) have some raw power we can’t really match but from a core technology standpoint we feel we can still do better matching than the technology they took in house,” he said.

Polar Rose is backed Nordic Venture Partners.

editing by David Stamp