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Visual Data Project recognised for its real-world impact

Software developed in our Information Engineering Group is supercharging research across academia and industry – and its young creator has been recognised for the real-world impact of his research.

Dr Abishek Dutta collecting his 2019 MPLS Impact Award from Professor Alison Noble open source image annotation software

Image credit: MPLS

Congratulations to Dr. Abhishek Dutta, whose open source image annotation software won an award for its ongoing application outside the lab.

His VGG Image Annotator (VIA) simplifies the process of manually annotating visual data – key to a variety of research topics, not least the ongoing revolution in artificial intelligence. Manual image annotation is the process of defining regions in an image and describing those regions using textual keywords. For example, Oxford’s Anthropology department turned to the VIA software to manually annotate chimpanzee faces across hundreds of hours of video.

The open-source software has been used over 360,000 times since it was released to the public in April 2017, in disciplines ranging from Medicine to English Literature. It was this range of applications that saw Abhishek’s project triumphing at the Impact Awards held by the University’s Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division.

Abhishek will receive a £1,000 prize in the Early Career Impact category of the awards. This recognises independent engagement with external figures and organisations, which lays the foundations for future impactful research in social or commercial category.

He says: “The VIA software has quickly become an essential and invaluable research support tool in many academic disciplines. The credit for this widespread adoption goes to our users who not only send valuable feedback to us but also contribute software code to improve or add new features to VIA. This has helped us nurture an active and vibrant community of users around this open source project.”

Examples of the project’s applications include:

  • Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment made use of VIA to annotate aerial imagery of buffalo in South Africa.
  • Neuromation used VIA to manually label 800 radiographs to create a training dataset for their key points model.
  • Skoltech (Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Russia) used the software to annotate thin sections of rocks for geological study.
  • The 15cBOOKTRADE project, based at the University of Oxford, is using VIA for the annotation of 15th-century printed book illustrations
  • Many engineering companies, including Puget Systems, USA, and Larsen & Toubro Infotech Ltd, India, integrated the VIA software in their existing web application. The Data science team at Royal Dutch Shell PLC uses VIA on a daily basis.

Also taking home an award at the ceremony was Professor Byron Byrne, from the Department’s Civil Engineering division. He was honoured in the Commercial Impact category, in recognition of his contribution to new design methods for optimisation of monopile foundations that support offshore wind turbines. Click here to read more about Byron’s award.