March 26, 2014

Helping Google Maps find the front door

Schulich assistant professor wins Google Research Award

Every day, Google Maps helps countless people in cities around the world find buildings they’re looking for, but once they get there, they’re usually on their own to find the actual entrance to get in.

Ruisheng Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Geomatics Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, has been awarded a Google Research Award to make it easier for individuals and eventually autonomous cars to find the front door.

Google Research Awards are one-year awards structured as unrestricted gifts to support full-time faculty members in computer science, engineering and related fields at top universities around the world.  “I’m excited because every year there are hundreds of people who apply for this award but only 16 or 17 per cent are successful,” says Wang. “It’s an honour.”

Wang researches how to integrate multimodal data to automatically create and update 3D maps, with special emphasis on the recognition of significant building façade elements, such as entrances.  With NSERC funding, he’s investigating the use of aerial LiDAR (remote sensing technology) with mobile LiDAR for urban modeling. 

For the Google project, he’ll use video images and LiDAR data to solve the challenge of automatically identifying entrances to buildings in urban environments.  “This is a very difficult research problem, for the tool to automatically recognize a building’s entrance,” he says. “To the best of our knowledge, this will be the first research to advance building entrance recognition, significantly improve current detection performance and therefore improving map searching capabilities.”

Identifying the entrance is important information for autonomous driving and routing algorithms in map searches and it will significantly advance mapping technologies.  “The next generation of maps will be shown in 3D with realistic looking buildings, traffic signs, bridges even trees,” says Wang.

“They’ll stay up-to-date with real-time updating capabilities and they’ll be able to provide people with personalized information like recommendations of where to eat and advertising they may be interested in seeing.”

Google received nearly 700 applications from researchers around the world and Wang is one of only 115 to receive the grant, which covers tuition and travel for a graduate student as well opportunities for the researchers to work directly with Google scientists and engineers.