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Cell phones may soon be your tourist guide

April 21, 2008

by Mark Ollig

When on vacation do you sometimes see an unfamiliar building, tree or even a mountain and wish you could instantly identify it?

From the “That’s Amazing!” department, here comes something right out of a Star Trek episode.

Remember the futuristic “tricorder” device Mr. Spock used? He would point this at any object of “unknown origin” and it would determine what it was.

In this case, instead of a tricorder, you just need to point and click your cell phone camera (which has some futuristic software inside) at the object to find out what it is.

Operating inside this special cell phone is the “Apollo software program.”

The Apollo eye-Phone was the winner in the European Satellite Navigation Competition, sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The “Apollo eye-Phone” provides “instant” information on what you see when you see it.

For example, say you’re outside walking and see an unusual tree that you can’t identify.

Just take out your tricorder – I mean cell phone – and take a picture of it.

Using the built-in Apollo software, the picture is transmitted from your cell phone to a central computer system, which interfaces to databases located on the Internet.

The databases will retrieve and disseminate the information collected about the picture from your cell phone.

The information found about the picture is transmitted back to your cell phone and displayed to you in real-time.

This technology can also be used for identifying buildings, scenery, plants, animals and more.

Ernst Pechtl and Hans Geiger are the two people behind this.

They own a company called SuperWise Technologies AG, located in Wolfratshausen, Germany.

This company developed the “Apollo image-recognition system” which is the software program that powers the Apollo eye-Phone.

The SuperWise Technologies web site is located at http://www.superwise-technologies.com.

The language on the web site is in German. To translate into English, just copy the URL and go to http://babel.altavista.com and paste the URL into “translate a web page” and select the German to English translations.

The Apollo software technology being used is actually an artificial intelligence system combined with an object recognition capability.

This new technology also incorporates the use of a combination of satellite navigation services, advanced object recognition, and information retrieved from the Internet.

“It’s a unique piece of software that can carry out object recognition within images, a very tricky task. It is self-learning and after a short and very simple training session it can identify any object in the world,” said Ernst Pechtl.

Pechtl went on to say, “The amount of information you receive depends on you, if you want to know more you just click the ‘more button’ and you trigger a more detailed search responding to your profile of interest. Applications include tourism, education, remote healthcare, security, science, etc.”

Apollo technology can identify objects in a digital image in spite of the angle from which it is taken, the lighting conditions or quality of the image. To provide for object recognition, it uses navigation positioning information.

It uses an “angle-sensor,” which is a new operation being set up in digital cameras which identifies the angle from which an image is taken and the direction in which the camera is pointing.

Once the object in the picture is recognized, the system will interface to any database on the Internet to collect specific information about the object we want to know about.

“The Apollo software is basically ready, and there is already one camera available with what we need: GPS, angle-sensor and on-board processing power. All we have to do is to integrate our system with the camera, i.e. load our software on the camera chip, to have a prototype ready and working,” said Pechtl.

A prototype should be ready during the middle of this year.

Pechtl expects it will take another 12 to 18 months to work out deals with partners and negotiate agreements, before the eye-Phone functionality can be offered to cell phone users.

I watched a two-minute video presentation on the SuperWise Technologie’s web site demonstrating how the Apollo eye-Phone is used.

A woman is shown walking on a trail alongside a river. She glances across the river to a structure, which looks like a church steeple in the valley. She uses her cell phone camera and zooms in on the structure.

With a stylus pen, she circles the structure on the screen and presses the “I” or information icon, located on the lower portion of the cell phone screen.

After a couple seconds, an “information box” appears on the cell phone screen displaying six lines of text information about the object she circled.

It was a very impressive display of technology.

Look for the Apollo eye-Phone to be commercially available hopefully in 2009.