Prof. Shree Nayar Wins Funai Achievement Award

Nayar honored for his pioneering research in computer vision

Apr 13 2021 | By Holly Evarts | Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shree K. Nayar
Professor Shree K. Nayar

Shree K. Nayar, the T. C. Chang Professor of Computer Science, has been awarded the prestigious Funai Achievement Award from the Information Processing Society of Japan for his seminal work on computer vision and computational imaging. Nayar will receive the award at the Forum on Information Technology (FIT) to be held in Sendai, Japan, in August 2021.

“I am grateful to the Information Processing Society of Japan for recognizing my work,” said Nayar, who directs Computer Vision Laboratory. “Over my career, I have had many close collaborations with Japanese researchers that have enabled my laboratory to translate our results into imaging technologies that are currently being used in consumer devices and factory automation systems.”

The Funai Award, which is endowed by the Funai Foundation for Information Technology, is Japan’s highest honor for information science. Nayar is only the fourth non-Japanese scientist to receive the honor in its 20-year history. The others are Alan Kay (Xerox), Marvin Minsky (MIT), William Dally (Stanford and Nvidia), and Jiawei Han (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Nayar’s work has changed the way visual information is captured and used by both machines and humans. In the mid 1990s, he pioneered the field of computational imaging, which combines unconventional optics with advanced image processing algorithms to produce immersive and interactive visual information. Based on this paradigm, Nayar and his collaborators developed novel cameras for omnidirectional imaging, depth imaging, and high-dynamic-range imaging.

Nayar’s idea of creating assorted pixels for high-dynamic-range imaging has enabled smartphone cameras to leapfrog in terms of the quality of the photos they capture. It is estimated that more than one billion smartphone users worldwide are using Nayar’s technology on a daily basis. In 2017, Popular Photography magazine published a profile of Nayar in which he was credited for “transforming the camera in your pocket.”

A second major focus of Nayar’s work is to understand how light interacts with the physical world. Nayar’s models for surface reflection, interreflection, texture, and atmospheric scattering are used by both researchers and practitioners in computer vision, graphics, and other fields. Nayar’s inventions related to active illumination methods for measuring 3D shapes of objects are widely used for visual inspection and factory automation.

In recognition of his pioneering work on imaging and vision, Nayar was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2008, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011, and the National Academy of Inventors in 2015. As commendation for the impact of his inventions on digital imaging and machine vision, he received the NTT Distinguished Scientific Award in 1994 and the Sony Appreciation Honor in 2014. Nayar has also been honored for his talents as an educator—he received the Great Teacher Award from Columbia University in 2006 and the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award from the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association in 2015.