By Douglas Heaven ALWAYS seeing the world with fresh eyes can make it hard to find your way around. Giving computers the ability to recognise objects as they scan a new environment will let them navigate much more quickly and understand what they are seeing. Renato Salas-Moreno at Imperial College London and colleagues have added object recognition to a computer vision technique called simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM). A SLAM-enabled computer has a camera to orient itself in new surroundings as it maps them. SLAM builds up a picture of the world out of points and lines and contours. In an office, say, chairs and desks would emerge from the room like hills and valleys in a landscape. “The world is meaningless since every point in the map is the same,” says Salas-Moreno. “It doesn’t know if it is looking at a television or the wall.” But in the new system, called SLAM++, the computer constantly tries to match the points and lines it sees to objects in its database. As soon as it finds a shape it can identify – often after seeing only a part of it – that area of the map can be filled in. Currently, the database is prepared by hand, but the next version will allow the system to add new objects itself as it encounters them. “It’s similar to how a child learns about the world,” says Salas-Moreno. “Computers that recognise and add new objects to their database learn in a similar way to a child” The database also lists the properties of the stored objects. So when the computer recognises a chair, it will know what they are used for, how much they typically weigh, and which way up they go. This knowledge will help digital avatars interact with the real world in augmented reality applications, for example. The work will be presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Portland, Oregon, this month. Stefan Hinterstoisser at the Technical University in Munich, Germany, is impressed. “It’s a very significant improvement over the state of the art,” he says. He thinks it could have a big impact not only on robotics, but also on games and films – CGI characters would be able to interact with the world more naturally, for example. This article appeared in print under the headline “Let me guess… it’s a chair, right?