German scientists have created the technology to manipulate live video, making objects disappear from screens like magic.


Karen Eliot via Flickr

German researchers claim to have developed the world's first technology to manipulate moving images in real time. The Diminished Reality System, as it is called, can delete objects from a screen during a live broadcast with just the click of a button, explains the research team at the Ilmenau University of Technology that has developed the process.

When one of the researchers Jan Herling presented the new software at a recent international symposium in Seoul, the audience was both amazed and skeptical, recalled Professor Wolfgang Broll, who heads the project. "There are only a handful of experts working with this technique, but even for them it was totally new and inconceivable."

Broll maintains that the process is "conceivably easy." In the Diminished Reality System, an object is first detected and then abruptly cut out. This means that a hole is cut into the existing image. The hole is then filled in on the basis of the surrounding image before being gradually refined and improved in quality.

"It's important to note that this system isn't reconstructing the real background behind the deleted object. Rather, it's filling this area in on the basis of the residual image in order to create plausible and consistent content," says Broll.

With videos, it is difficult to ensure that this synthesized content differs as little from one image to the next, and the picture can become distorted quite easily. Fortunately, the calculation process takes an average of only 40 milliseconds, making it possible to use the Diminished Reality System in live broadcasts.



New Possibilities for Urban Planners


The University believes the potential market for this new technology is enormous. "The applications are as diverse as you could imagine," says Professor Broll. "We are being flooded with increasing amounts of stimuli and information. This technology allows us for the first time to reduce images in a targeted manner." For example, while remodeling your home, you could film a room via web cam and then delete the old furniture from your screen with a just a click of a mouse. An image of the empty room would remain, cleared and ready for new plans.

The system could also have similar industrial applications, such as when warehouses and assembly lines need to be altered or changed. Engineers would be able to optimize new designs on-site. Furthermore, urban planners could virtually remove all old, dilapidated buildings from a city and immediately replace them with new buildings. In the near future, this new technology will most likely be integrated with mobile phones. Even more impressive will be data glasses that can create this effect directly in front of the viewer's eyes.

Potential for Misuse

This new technology, although exciting, also presents many dangers of misuse, admits Professor Broll. Live broadcasts on television can be manipulated without the audience noticing. Unpleasant things can easily be filtered out of a video with just the click of a button. The professor assures, however, that these manipulations leave a trace and can always be verified.

The current first version of this technology still has some small bugs when it comes to recreating certain background structures. But in one to two years, says Broll, the technology will be so advanced that the manipulation effect will be near-perfect. At that point, the deleted portion of the video will no longer be distinguishable.

For this reason, Broll sees it as his obligation to educate the public on the existence, and potential to misuse, this emerging tool. "Everyone should be aware that video manipulation in real time is now technically possible," he warns.

Read the original article in German

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