by Jon Barad

Periodically, we’re using nTersect to profile some of the companies that participated in the 2009 Emerging Companies Summit, starting with the five winners of our “Ones to Watch” award. You can learn more about innovative companies that use NVIDIA’s GPU technology in the GPU Ventures Zone.


Google has such a successful search engine, it’s easy to forget a glaring limitation: it runs on words. With online content becoming increasingly image-based, there’s a growing need for search that doesn’t depend on text. Enter Visuvi, a Redwood City, Calif.-based startup with a sophisticated visual search engine. By using computer vision, Visuvi can do everything from helping consumers find products to helping doctors find cancer.


“What Google does with text, Visuvi does with images,” says Visuvi CEO Chris Boone, presenting at the Emerging Companies Summit. He met with NVIDIA VP of Business Development Jeff Herbst to talk about Visuvi’s innovative technology and how it’s made possible by GPUs. Watch the video on the Emerging Companies Summit website.


Here’s how it works. Capture an image with any kind of device, in any format or size, and submit it to Visuvi’s search engine. With the parallel processing of GPUs, images are analyzed for characteristics like color, texture, density, gradient and so on using about 150 algorithms. The results roll up into an image coefficient that is then used to match against their data set and deliver results in under a second.

Right now the biggest application for Visuvi is medical imaging with its twin challenges of enormous file sizes (files in digital pathology can easily run to 10GB) and a life-or-death need for accuracy. Visuvi allows doctors to submit digitized medical images from MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays and biopsy slides and get similar pictures returned along with related diagnoses (scrubbed of identifying patient information, of course). If a patient gets a suspicious result on his prostate biopsy, for instance, his pathologist can instantly call up a bunch of other biopsies that look exactly like the patient’s and see whether those turned out to be cancerous or not.


While Visuvi doesn’t make diagnoses for doctors, it can make diagnosis a more quantitative process, eliminating many of the judgment calls that result in misreads. And by integrating with many of the medical imaging systems already in place, (their search button sits onscreen, just as Google’s search box would sit in a web browser) Visuvi makes it simple for doctors and technicians to use the technology.


Of course, there are many other uses for visual search. Say you see some good-looking wine glasses and you have to have them. Take a picture on your cell phone, submit it to Visuvi, and they’ll index Amazon’s entire catalogue, giving you prices and everything. Visuvi’s technology can also be used to auto-tag images that lack text tags or descriptions, allowing publishers to insert contextual advertising.


Visuvi’s goal is to use dominance in medical imaging and its expanding ecommerce presence to create an entire visual search platform. In little more than a year of existence Visuvi has already collected three patents and an armful of awards – it’s well on its way.