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Ultra Video Group is open science promoter of the year: video research paves the way for holistic environment perception

Published on 8.9.2023
Tampere University
Research group standing on the outdoor stais at Hervanta campus.
The video research team Ultra Video Group comprises around twenty skilled experts on video coding, processing, and streaming. The team is led by Associate Professor Jarno Vanne (front row left).
Open code sheds light on the technical context and provides the scientific community with better means to justify, verify, and validate the disseminated research results. By raising awareness, open software fosters business co-operation and opens opportunities for new research projects. Ultra Video Group (UVG) takes advantage of these benefits in its open video research. Tampere University granted UVG the annual open science promoter award. Among other things, the group applies its video technology to monitoring vehicular traffic.

This year, Tampere University granted its open science promoter award to Ultra Video Group. The research team was awarded for its long and sustained work to promote the good practices of open science by openly sharing research results and nurturing multifaceted collaboration with industry and academia.

The idea for the UVG research team occurred to Jarno Vanne in 2011 after he completed his doctorate on video compression. Before that, Vanne had already noticed Marko Viitanen’s coding skills and recruited him as a research assistant.

“Today, video accounts for approximately 80% of Internet traffic. The bandwidth of data networks keeps growing, but it is also worth thinking what kind of data flows in the networks. Compression plays a major role when video is either recorded or streamed,” says Vanne, Leader of UVG.

UVG's activities have expanded with demand. Successes have led to new projects and required more experts. Today, Ultra Video Group employs around twenty experts in video encoding, processing, and streaming from Finland, France, Poland, and Vietnam. 

UVG is one of the best-known academic video research groups in Europe. According to Vanne, the group has employed about 50 people over the years.

The group emphasises openness and co-creation, which, according to the award criteria, have also been realised in cross-sectoral business co-operation. 

UVG has implemented media processing solutions in dozens of projects. In addition to scientific research, the team engages in close co-operation with companies but does not seek to make a commercial profit from its implementations.

Smoothing out traffic with video data

UVG has its roots in video compression, but the activities have since been expanded to video processing and streaming. For example, utilising 360 videos typically requires additional processing such as combining multiple video streams before compressing them. 

One of UVG’s research topics is to develop a virtual traffic simulation environment. 

“We are collecting visual data from the virtual world for application development. This allows us, for example, to virtually pilot a drone with a video stream before respective experiments can be conducted in the real world. Efficiently compressed video data can also travel onboard a drone throughout the flight,” Vanne mentions.

Vanne and Viitanen remind us of intelligent vehicles that model the world by the means of video, i.e., by recognising different objects in a scene. According to the researchers, video camera data can be used in occlusion removal in driving, such as for removing blind spots behind other vehicles or corners.

“We are building a complete solution for vision-based environment perception, and efficient video compression plays a significant role in it,” Viitanen says.

Open code clarifies research results

“I just wanted to share things so that others can also see what we are up to,” Viitanen recalls.

“As academic actors, we have the freedom of doing things that would not necessarily make sense commercially, but they are still interesting for us from the research point of view,” he emphasises.

For researchers, being an academic means scientific publishing. The open-source code can be used to clarify the developed technology and obtained results for the research community.

“The working source code backing the results also increases the transparency of publications. What would support the results presented in a scientific paper better than that?” Vanne asks.

“We always try to carefully describe the tests carried out to obtain our results. When questions arise, other researchers are able to repeat our experiments,” Vanne points out.

Vanne and Viitanen also campaign for referring to scientific publications written about open software because citing the software repository has no impact on ordinary publication metrics. Viitanen himself has improved the visibility of the group's publications by using a code snippet to search in the TUNICRIS system for the open access publications that correspond to the publication list on the group’s web page and provided links to them.

Vanne currently works as an Associate Professor. Viitanen is pursuing his doctoral degree at the Unit of Computer Science at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences.

 Jarno Vanne became interested in Marko Viitanen’s (right) coding skills. Viitanen brought the idea of open code to UVG: “We wanted to share our work so that others would also learn about it,” Viitanen says. (Photograph: Mikko Korhonen)

Open software improves visibility in the business world

The ever-expanding open-source media library is one of the cornerstones of UVG. It includes various tools for visual data processing.

The library is also the best possible business card for company collaboration. The group’s number one software, a video encoder called Kvazaar, has been developed for 12 years. It has also been included in the multimedia library FFmpeg. 

UVG sees its crown jewel as competing for the number one spot in open-source video encoders globally. Kvazaar uses the HEVC standard and is currently the only viable HEVC encoder developed in a purely academic environment.

Vanne considers the dialogue with business partners important because open software and its further development bring a practical addition to academic research and awareness of concrete industry needs. He sees that the group’s visibility increases with open software.

UVG has got several new projects by first letting companies become familiar with open software online.

"For example, the software can be used in the company's own system. We may be asked to code some additional features into the software. Because we do research and not commercial products it is just good that others can also use our software,” Viitanen points out.

Tampere University rewards open science

With the open science promoter award, Tampere University highlights a person, group or project that has promoted open science in an exemplary manner at the university community.

The award is granted based on suggestions submitted by members of Tampere University community. For a group, the prize totals €5,000. The award recipient is decided by the open science steering committee.

The prize is funded by the University of Tampere Foundation sr and Industrial Research Fund at Tampere University of Technology sr.

Open science is a significant part of operations at Tampere University. The openness of science enables extending the very latest results of research and teaching to other researchers and teachers and to businesses and citizens in an equally, ethically, and materially sustainable way. Open science comprises research data, publications, codes and software, methods, learning materials and environments, and citizen science.

Read more about responsible science and research


Ultra Video Group

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