Extreme Imaging

Dr. Robert Pless is installed as the Patrick and Donna Martin Professor of Computer Science.
July 05, 2018

Where one person might see some ordinary photographs, Dr. Robert Pless, the SEAS Patrick and Donna Martin Professor of Computer Science, sees big opportunity.

“I’m exploring the limits of computational photography, which is when you have a computer attached to the camera taking pictures,” says Pless. “What’s unique about my research compared to my colleagues working in computational photography is that I think about extreme imaging questions, whether it’s time lapses over huge amounts of time or pictures from huge numbers of cameras.”

How is he using this to effect real-world change? Take TraffikCam—an app he developed to combat child sex trafficking. Sex traffickers often take photos of their victims in hotel rooms, and then post these photos online to the dark web. Using the app, available on both iPhone and Android, ordinary travelers can upload photos of their hotel rooms to an extensive database. Using Pless’ app, law enforcement can then cross-check the evidence gathered from the dark web against the database of user-submitted photos, where the technology can match distinguishing features of the rooms, including textiles and wallpapers, to quickly find a match.

Pless says, “The social goal is to use the fact that there are so many cameras around the world in so many people’s hands and they see so many important things. By connecting them to each other or central databases, we can find new ways of attacking really important problems.”

Pless was installed as the Patrick and Donna Martin Professor of Computer Science last year, established in 2016 by the Patrick J. Martin Family Foundation. “We’re grateful to Pat and Donna Martin for their very generous gift, which endowed the professorship that Pless will hold,” said David Dolling, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the April ceremony. “Gifts like theirs make it possible for us to recruit faculty of Robert Pless’ caliber. I’m very pleased that Dr. Pless has joined us at SEAS, and I’m looking forward to working with him to further develop the strengths of our computer science department.”

Pless is excited to commit his talents to GW. “I’m deeply honored to be the Patrick and Donna Martin Professor of Computer Science,” says Pless. “I look forward to grow­ing this department to best suit the needs of the student body and to maximize its research impact.”

Read more stories from the Spring 2018 issue of GW Impact