Haibo Li - innovative media technology

With one foot in the world of mathematics and the other in the interest in human beings, Haibo Li is driven by a wish to “develop innovative media technologies to help people be more expressive, creative and reflective in their daily lives”.

Li’s research combines his early interest in mathematics, which brought him onto the academic path, with his interest in human beings that has developed over the years. One example is his work on facial recognition for computers that one of his doctoral students, Ulrik Söderström, has also worked on. It is based on calculating what a face looks like behind an occlusion (such as a beard) or disguise (such as a scarf) with the help of algorithms.

“It is very difficult for computers to do certain things that we humans manage easily. Facial recognition is one of those things” says Li.

As the head of the research group “Digital Media Lab”, Li participated in the making Lycksele Zoo digitally accessible through the project “Digital Djurpark” (eng. Digital Zoo). Via sensors placed in different parts of the zoo, humans can look at the animals in the zoo and discuss them using social media. The concept has already spread to several zoos, for example in Finland. In a long-term perspective, Li is interested in how to communicate with animals, rather than just monitoring them with the help of technology. He also hope that the project may lead to an improvement in understanding animals.

One of his current research areas deals with hand gesture recognition for the next generation of mobile phones. Up until the Iphone came on the market, the visualization space (that is to say, the camera and the screen) separated from the interaction space (that is to say, the keyboard). Li foresees a new generation of mobile phones where the entire phone is a visualization area, around which you can gesticulate. He calls this the g phone and speaks of collaborative sharing. One key component is to make technological equipment to “understand” hand gestures. He also envisages future screens to be available on other products, such as glasses.

Another innovation that Li has worked with is what is called finger-link, that is to say an invisible interaction layer that is embedded in glass plates, such as windows. Li sees this as key technology for future computers, which will be nothing but pieces of glass. But while many researchers are still carrying out experiments with this type of technology, Li argues that he and his colleagues have developed a robust version of the innovation.

With research under his belt that comprises both mathematical formulae, IT solutions and even concerns the behaviours of both animals and humans, Li is starting to realize the limited amount time left to continue conducting research.

"Previously, I did not think about how much time I had left to do research at university. But now I realize that I only have 15 years left till retirement, which in a way is a relatively short period of time. I have to think very carefully what problems I am going to work on."

Li has spent most part of his academic career in Sweden, where he came as a PhD student in 1990. He finished his doctoral thesis on information theory in 1993. 1997 he became docent (UK equivalent senior lecturer, US equivalent associate professor) in image coding, and in 1999 he became professor of signal processing. His research area is media signal processing.

Emma Bayne

Top page top