November 29, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Numbers

Robotics, geographic information systems, computer-aided design and computer graphics are all founded in computational geometry, a branch of computer science that involves the study of geometric algorithms.

It’s a world that has fascinated André van Renssen since he realized how good he was at solving problems.

As soon as the 23-year-old student of Eindhoven, the Netherlands completed his master’s degree in August, he left for Carleton to study in the University’sComputational Geometry Laboratoryat the School of Computer Science.

“It’s a really great opportunity for me,” says van Renssen, who was invited by associate dean of research (science) Prosenjit Bose to come and work in his lab under a President’s Doctoral Fellowship.

“Unlike many universities, Carleton has an entire group working on computational geometry. That’s a lot of people to exchange ideas with and to help with problems.”

The fellowship allowed Bose to recruit van Renssen from abroad, through his colleague Mark de Berg at the Technical University of Eindhoven.

The specific problem I want to target with André is surprisingly easy for humans but very difficult for computers

“The fellowship is permitting us to move ahead with important research. The specific problem I want to target with André is surprisingly easy for humans but very difficult for computers, which don’t have eyes,” explains Bose. “A digital image is stored in the computer as a bunch of numbers, which represent various intensities of colour. Humans can easily pick out an image of the Eiffel Tower in a photograph, but finding an Eiffel Tower within a bunch of numbers makes the problem more challenging for computers.”

While the outcome of van Renssen’s work during the course of his doctoral research over the next four years is unpredictable, Bose hopes that many aspects of these types of problems will be improved.

Neither is van Renssen able to predict the future course of his career, but what is clear to him now is that he is excited at the prospect of exploring different computational problems in a collaborative environment.

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