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UMIACS

University of Maryland

College Park, MD, USA

Abstract

Figure-ground discrimination is an important problem

in computer vision. Previous work usually assumes that the

color distribution of the ﬁgure can be described by a low

dimensional parametric model such as a mixture of Gaus-

sians. However, such approach has difﬁculty selecting the

number of mixture components and is sensitive to the ini-

tialization of the model parameters. In this paper, we em- Figure 1. An example of iterative ﬁgure-

ploy non-parametric kernel estimation for color distribu- ground discrimination

tions of both the ﬁgure and background. We derive an iter-

ative Sampling-Expectation (SE) algorithm for estimating

the color distribution and segmentation. There are several

advantages of kernel-density estimation. First, it enables a normalized-cut mechanism for partitioning a graph into

automatic selection of weights of different cues based on groups. They perform grouping directly at the pixel-level,

the bandwidth calculation from the image itself. Second, it which is computationally expensive for dense graphs. If the

does not require model parameter initialization and estima- number of pairs is restricted, then a foreground object may

tion. The experimental results on images of cluttered scenes be segmented into multiple pieces.

demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed algorithm. In contrast, the central grouping approach works by com-

paring all pixels to a small number of cluster centers; exam-

ples include k-means [6], and EM clustering [4, 5] with a

1. Introduction mixture of Gaussians. Central grouping methods tend to

be computationally more efﬁcient, but are sensitive to ini-

Figure-ground discrimination is an important low-level tialization and require appropriate selection of the number

computer vision process. It separates the foreground ﬁg- of mixture components. The Minimum Description Length

ure from the background. In this way, the amount of data Principle [4] is a common way for selecting the number of

to be processed is reduced and the signal to noise ratio is mixture components. Our experiments however have shown

improved. that ﬁnding a good initialization for the traditional EM al-

Previous work on ﬁgure-ground discrimination can be gorithm remains a difﬁcult problem.

classiﬁed into two categories. One is pairwise grouping ap- To avoid the drawback of traditional EM algorithm, we

proach; the other is central grouping approach. The pair- propose a non-parametric kernel estimation method which

wise grouping approach represents the perceptual informa- represents the feature distribution of each cluster with a set

tion and grouping evidence by graphs, in which the vertices of sampled pixels. An iterative sampling-expectation (SE)

are the image features (edges, pixels, etc) and the arcs carry algorithm is developed for segmenting the ﬁgure from back-

the grouping information. The grouping is based on mea- ground. The input of the algorithm is the region of interest

sures of similarity between pairs of image features. Early of an image provided by the user or another algorithm. We

work in this category [1, 2] focused on performing ﬁgure- assume the ﬁgure is in the center of the region and initialize

ground discrimination on sparse features such as edges or its shape with a Gaussian distribution. Then the segmenta-

line segments and did not make good use of region and tion is reﬁned through the competition between the ﬁgure

color information. Later, Shi and Malik [3] developed and ground. This is an adaptive soft labeling procedure (see

1051-4651/04 $ 20.00 IEEE

Fig. 1 for an example). The kernel density estimator provides a bridge between

Our algorithm overcomes the disadvantages of both pair- making no assumptions on formal structure (a purely non-

wise and central grouping methods. Since both the ﬁgure parametric approach) and making very strong assumptions

and background are encoded with non-parametric models, (a parametric approach). By making the relative weak as-

our algorithm avoids the parameter initialization and updat- sumption about what the true density of the data might be, it

ing steps in the EM algorithm. And since all pixels are com- is possible to extract more information from the data than is

pared to a small number of sampled pixels instead of pair- possible using purely non-parametric methods, and it avoids

wise comparison, our algorithm is computationally more ef- rigid distributional assumptions, thereby providing density

ﬁcient than pairwise grouping methods. The experiments estimation that is both ﬂexible and robust.

on real images of natural scenes demonstrate that the SE

algorithm is robust to initialization and gives better results 2.3. Color Density Estimation

than the traditional EM algorithm.

In the ﬁgure-ground discrimination case, we represent

2. Kernel Density Estimation of Color Distri- the color of each pixel as a three-dimensional vector

where

, are two

chromaticity variables and is a bright-

bution

ness variable. The separation of chromaticity from bright-

2.1. Parametric vs. Non-parametric Estimation ness in the

space allows the use of a much wider kernel

with the variable to cope with the variability in this vari-

There are two ways for estimating the probability den- able due to shading effects. On the other hand, the chro-

sity function of a stochastic process — the parametric and maticity variables

are invariant to shading effects and

non-parametric approaches. The parametric density estima- therefore much narrower kernels can be used in these di-

tor assumes a parametric model for the underlying process, mensions, which enables more powerful chromaticity dis-

specifying a particular form for the underlying density such crimination.

as Gaussian or a mixture of Gaussians. This approach is ef- Given a sample of pixels

from

ﬁcient but makes strong assumption about the structure of ﬁgure , an estimate for the color density can

the data. On the other hand, the purely non-parametric ap- be calculated as

proach such as histogram estimators, makes no assumptions

about the underlying process, and imposes no formal struc-

ture on the data. Although the non-parametric approach is

informative and ﬂexible, it suffers from two serious draw- (2)

backs: it is not smooth, and it does not provide an adequate where . We use Gaussian kernels, i.e.,

¾

description of local properties of a density function. Both with different bandwidth in each

of these problems can be solved using a kernel density esti- dimension. Theoretically, for Gaussian case the bandwidth

mator. can be estimated as [8] where is the

estimated standard deviation and is the sample size. The

2.2. Kernel Density Estimation use of kernel density estimation for color distribution en-

ables automatic selection of weights of different cues based

Given a set of samples where on the bandwidth calculation from the image itself.

and is a d-dimensional vector, kernel density estima-

tion [8] can be used to estimate the probability that a data 2.4. Normalized KL-Divergence

is from the same distribution as

(1)

We evaluate the signiﬁcance of a ﬁgure by comparing the

color distributions between the ﬁgure and ground. The more

dissimilar they are and the larger the ﬁgure is, the more sig-

niﬁcant the ﬁgure is. Accordingly, we design the following

normalized KL-divergence measure for evaluating the sig-

where the same kernel function is used in each dimension

niﬁcance of a ﬁgure at a certain scale, and use this measure

with different bandwidth . The additive form of Eq. (1)

to select the proper scale for ﬁgure-ground discrimination.

implies that the estimate retains the continuity and differ-

entiability properties of the kernel function. Theoretically,

kernel density estimators can converge to any density shape

(3)

with enough samples [8].

1051-4651/04 $ 20.00 IEEE

Figure 3. Sensitivity to the initial location of

the center of the distribution

scales

respectively, and is a sampled pixel in .

3. The Iterative Sampling - Expectation algo- and EM methods to initialization

rithm

We assume that the pixels in an image were generated 3. E step: re-assign pixels to the two processes based on

by two processes — the ﬁgure and ground processes. Then maximum likelihood estimation.

the ﬁgure-ground discrimination problem involves assign-

ing each pixel to the process that generated it. If we knew 4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the segmentation becomes

the probability density functions of the two processes, then stable.

we could assign each pixel to the process with the maximum

Since the assignments of pixels are soft, we cannot use

likelihood. Likewise, if we knew the assignment of each

the kernel density estimation in Eq. (1) directly. Instead we

pixel, then we could estimate the probability density func-

design a weighted kernel density estimation and make use

tions of the two processes. This chicken-and-egg problem

of the samples from both the foreground and background.

suggests an iterative framework for computing the segmen-

Given a set of samples from the whole image, we

tation. Unlike the traditional EM algorithm which assumes

estimate the probabilities of a pixel belonging to the fore-

mixtured Gaussian models, we employ the kernel density

ground and background by ﬁrst calculating the following

estimation to approximate the color density distribution of

two values

each process. A set of pixels are sampled from the image for

kernel density estimation. Thus, the maximization step in

(4)

the EM algorithm is replaced with the sampling step. This

gives the basic structure of an iterative sampling- expecta-

(5)

1. Start with a Gaussian spatial distribution for all pix-

els in the image. We select the scale of the initial where is the number of samples ( we use of the pixels

Gaussian distribution which maximizes the normalized in the image) and is the dimension of the feature space.

KL-divergence given in Eq. (3). Fig. 2 demonstrates Through normalization we get the soft assignments of each

that we can obtain the correct segmentation at the right pixel to the foreground and background:

scale.

(6)

2. S step: uniformly sample a set of pixels from the image

for kernel density estimation.

(7)

1051-4651/04 $ 20.00 IEEE

We further compared the SE algorithm with a more so-

phisticated EM algorithm proposed by Carson et. al. [4]. In

[4], the Minimum Description Length principle is used to

select the number of mixture models. Fig. 5 demonstrates

that the EM algorithm tends to merge the ﬁgure with part of

the background, while our algorithm gives better segmenta-

tion results.

5. Conclusion

for ﬁgure-ground discrimination. The use of kernel density

estimation for color distribution enables automatic selection

of weights of different cues based on the bandwidth calcu-

lation from the image itself. The size and shape of the ﬁg-

ure are determined adaptively by the competition between

the ﬁgure and background using the iterative sampling-

expectation algorithm. Consequently, the combination of

kernel density estimation for color distribution and the it-

erative sampling-expectation algorithm have resulted in en-

couraging segmentation results.

References

ination results: SE vs. EM combinatorial Optimization Approach. IEEE Trans. Pattern

Recognition and Machine Intelligence, 15(9):899-914, 1993.

The above equations update the assignments of a pixel by tion. Computer Vision and Image Understanding, 1(76):7-18,

integrating evidence from the samples in its neighborhood. 1999.

To obtain the ﬁnal segmentation, we assign a pixel to the

[3] J. Shi and J. Malik: Normalized Cuts and Image Segmenta-

foreground if , otherwise to the background. In tion. Proc. IEEE Conf. Computer Vision and Pattern Recog-

this way, we let the ﬁgure and ground processes “compete” nition, June, 1997.

to explain the pixel data.

[4] C. Carson, S. Belongie, H. Greenspan, J. Malik, “Blobworld:

Image Segmentation Using Expectation-Maximization and Its

4. Experiments Application to Image Querying,” IEEE Trans. Pattern Recog-

nition and Machine Intelligence, 24(8):1026-1038, 2002.

We did experiments to test the sensitivity of the SE al-

gorithm to the initial distribution. We shift the center of the [5] S. Ayer, H.S. Sawhney: Layered Representation of Mo-

initial Gaussian distribution off the center of the image and tion Video Using Robust Maximum-Likelihood Estimation of

compare the results with the one obtained by locating the Mixture Models and MDL Encoding. Proc. Int. Conf. Com-

distribution at the image center. Fig. 3 indicates that the av- puter Vision, 777-784, 1995.

erage assignment error at each pixel is less than when [6] A. Jain, R. Dubes. Algorithms for Clustering Data. Engle-

the shift is less than 10 pixels or 12% of the ﬁgure size. wood Cliffs, NJ, 1988.

To test how sensitive the SE algorithm is to the initial

sampling, we ran the SE algorithm over the same image [7] J. Puzicha, T. Hofmann, J.M. Buhmann: Histogram Cluster-

several times. Fig. 4 illustrates that the results are very ing for Unsupervised Segmentation and Image Retrieval. Pat-

tern Recognition Letters, 20:899-909, 1999.

stable. In comparison, we ran the traditional EM algorithm

over the same image with three mixtured Gaussians for the [8] D.W. Scott. Multivariate Density Estimation. Wiley Inter-

ﬁgure and three for the background. When initializing the science, 1992.

cluster centers at different places, we obtained very different

segmentation results as shown in Fig. 4.

1051-4651/04 $ 20.00 IEEE

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