Christian Theobalt awarded Karl Heinz Beckurts-Preis 2017

Christian Theobalt awarded Karl Heinz Beckurts-Preis 2017


One of Germany's most prestigious awards for basic research with high practical relevance goes to Professor Dr. Christian Theobalt. The computer scientist receives the Beckurts Prize 2017 for his trend-setting insights and developments to efficiently capture human movements, poses, gestures, and facial expressions from videos and transfer them into 3D models. His methods are characterized by the fact that he does not use markers on clothing or bodies to capture people in real environments in real time, sometimes even with just one camera. The methods allow for new applications, including virtual and augmented reality, telepresence, and motion analysis in sports and medicine.

Christian Theobalt is head of the research group Graphics, Vision & Video at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and teaches at Saarland University. Together with his research group, he develops image acquisition algorithms that do not require any marker points on the subjects to be captured in order to detect their motions. The Beckurts Prize honors his research work on "Capturing Reality", in which he has developed algorithms to measure and analyze movements three-dimensionally and in real time. Thanks to his work, model acquisition is possible even when several people in the image are moving quickly and even covering each other. Meanwhile, a laboratory environment with defined lighting is no longer necessary, but rather real environments with scattered light, shadows, and other complications can also be captured. The calculation methods he has developed are among the most advanced and efficient methods worldwide. A single well-equipped PC is all it takes to capture the facial expressions, body and hand movements of a person in real time. His methods are also the first ones to solve the problem under certain conditions with only one camera. To achieve this advancement in development, he has cleverly combined algorithmic concepts from computer graphics, image recognition, and machine learning.

Since Christian Theobalt's algorithms eliminate the need for markers on the body (as commonly used in the movie industry), motion analysis is simplified. His results lay the foundation for new perceptual abilities of future intelligent and autonomous computer systems and open up new possibilities both for interaction with virtual and extended reality as well as for highly realistic telepresence systems. Movement sequences can be improved and therapy successes can be controlled. Athletes can be analyzed without the use of instruments in their natural environment on the field, in contact sports, or even under water. There are also new opportunities for human-machine interaction: Intelligent autonomous and robotic systems of the future will be able to better grasp and understand the world, move safely within it, and collaborate better with people.

Christian Theobalt is one of the founders of theCaptury GmbH, Saarbrücken, a multi-award-winning spin-off of his research group. theCaptury markets a revolutionary method for markerless motion capture based on Theobalt's basic research.

This year's Beckurts Prize will be awarded at the "Inventors of the Year 2017" gala event. Siemens Inc. is hosting the event at its headquarters in Munich on December 14th.  Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, President of the University of Braunschweig and Chairman of the Executive Board of the Karl Heinz Beckurts Foundation, will present the prize, which is endowed with 30,000 euros: "The findings from this research will lift digitization and automation to a new level and influence how we live, work, and communicate," she explains. The reviewers agreed that Christian Theobalt not only conducts outstanding basic research on image recognition and computer graphics, but also translates his findings into creative innovations for which there is a market. Roland Busch, Chief Technology Officer and Member of the Managing Board of Siemens, remarked: "Prof. Theobalt is a worthy winner who acts with a spirit of research and entrepreneurship entirely in the tradition of Karl-Heinz Beckurts, who has always been a strong link between science and business."

Christian Theobalt graduated from Saarland University in 2001 with a degree in Computer Science and received a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Edinburgh. In 2005, he received his doctorate from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken and Saarland University. Following a two-year period as a visiting professor at Stanford in 2007-2009, he became a group leader at the MPI-INF in 2009 and a professor of computer science at Saarland University in 2010. In his research, he deals with fundamental algorithmic questions in the closely related areas of computer vision, computer graphics, human-machine interaction, and machine learning. In particular, he conducts research on the following topics: algorithms for 3D reconstruction of static and dynamic scenes, virtual and extended reality, markerless motion capture techniques, computer animation methods, inverse rendering methods (material and lighting properties estimation), machine learning methods to support 3D/4D reconstruction, new cameras and sensors, semantic video processing methods, and image-based rendering methods. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Otto Hahn Medal of the Max Planck Society in 2007, the EUROGRAPHICS Young Researcher Award in 2009, and the German Pattern Recognition Award in 2012. He has received two ERC grants from the European Union, an ERC Starting Grant in 2013 and an ERC Consolidator Grant in 2017, and was named one of the "Top 40 Innovation Leaders under 40" in Germany by the magazine Capital in 2015.

Since 1989, the Karl Heinz Beckurts Foundation has with this award annually honored outstanding scientific and technical achievements that have provided recognizable impulses, promoted by the prizewinners, for industrial innovations in Germany. The Karl Heinz Beckurts Foundation was founded in 1987 by the Helmholtz Association in remembrance of the researcher and manager, Prof. Dr. Karl Heinz Beckurts. Beckurts was chairman of the Association of National Research Centers (AGF) (the predecessor organization of the Helmholtz Association) from 1973 to 1976, chairman of the board of directors of the former Jülich nuclear research facility from 1976, and member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG from 1980. In 1986, Beckurts and his chauffeur, Eckhard Groppler, fell victim to a terrorist attack by the RAF.

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