ISI Map/Data Mashup Tech Fuels Startup

November 1, 2007

Grants from four separate government agencies totally approximately $1 million are funding research carried on both at ISI and an ISI/Viterbi USC spin-off company, Geosemble Technologies, Inc., located in El Segundo, California.

Geosemble grows directly out of ISI and USC work in linking geographic coordinates - longitude and latitude is the most familiar example - with digital data of all kinds. Cyrus Shahabi and Craig Knoblock, both professors at the Viterbi School's Department of Computer Science, are the two co- founders of the new company. Knoblock is also a Senior Project Leader at the Viterbi School's Information Sciences Institute.


The vision, according to Shahabi, is "if you give us the coordinates, we can tell you everything about what is there." The technology seamlessly pulls together all kinds and flavors of information from from county records, satellite images, address directories, Internet databases and street, topographical and other maps.

The new grants will expand this vision in a variety of new directions:

1. In August 2007 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Geosemble a grant for development of a system called TILES, "Text to Image Linking and Embedding System." According to Geosemble, "TILES combines Geosemble's technology for assigning textual keywords to geospatial datasets such as maps and imagery, with USC's technologies in summarizing text documents and then&hellip superimpose summaries of related news articles and online information on top of target imagery. ... The system will also be able to link a range of media, including video and audio data and provide the data chronologically in an intuitive, user-friendly interface. [It will] allow a user to view a satellite image for any place in the world, and then automatically find and apply online text, video and mapping intelligence to that location automatically, with no human research required."

2. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded a line of work that TILES will build on top of, a technology that automatically creates geospatial directories, called Gazetteers, from online geospatial (e.g., maps) and geospatially-related (e.g., yellow-pages) sources.
Researchers at Viterbi's Information Sciences institute, led by ISI Deputy Director Eduard Hovy (right), will work with Geosemble researchers on this element, creating utilities that summarize and condense text that is associated with coordinates into compact labels and captions.

2. A US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) has just made a grant that will be shared Geosemble and USC, which will concentrate on refining techniques for automatically overlaying maps onto images and creating hybrid documents like the ones now seen in online mapping systems like Google.

Geosemble will use new algorithms to create the mapa automatically, correct them for the image location, and then automatically selecting and aligning all of the corresponding data, layer by layer, on a satellite image.

The resulting satellite-map hybrids deliver details like the names for roads, parks,rivers, mountains, buildings instantly, without requiring teams of trained satellite and map analysts to do the work. (see schematic view of process below)

This Geosemble work is broadening understandings of the international arena by making fusing information from disparate maps into richer, more intelligent geolocation intelligence. Craig Knoblock's ISI group will work on this with Geosemble.

4. Finally, the National Science Foundation has this summer awarded Geosemble a small-business grant for creating better digital access to resources in cities using similar superimposition and other techniques. Geosemble is attempting to create intelligent systems that can take advantage of the extremely high resolution attainable in modern satellite imaging and combine them with new techniques of image recognition to recognize specific objects on the ground.

The application is for automatic detection and classification of imagery. "One example" notes Geosemble's description of the project, "is the identification and classification of large, empty back yards, linked to the address and correlated to house value. This information provides insight into consumers," and may help marketers identify potential customers.

In the past six months, Geosemble has expanded its staff and begun focusing on commercial applications for its technology. The expansion has also been beneficial for ISI and USC students: all but one of Geosemble's employees come from USC/ISI.

Noted Shahabi, "we've found that the University/Private Industry partnership has been very fruitful - we receive research funding at the university and in turn we generate new technologies for the US Government and the commercial marketplace, which require development and commercialization by the company."