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On the Radar: Bluefin Lab, Making Sense of Sports Video

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 5, 2009 07:17 AM

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You know you may be onto something interesting when you make a few inquiries about a company and suddenly their Web site disappears. That was the case Friday after I made a few inquiries about Bluefin Lab, a stealthy start-up based in Somerville.

The company's roots trace back to Michael Ben Fleischman's PhD work at the MIT Media Lab. Fleischman created software that could analyze vast amounts of sports video (and the accompanying audio and embedded text) to learn, for example, what a home run, foul ball, and fly-out looks like in baseball, and make each of those scenes easily findable. Imagine being able to view all of the strike-outs in a baseball game by the starting pitcher, or the field goal attempts in a football game, without needing human beings to tag and index the video manually.

The company has already banked roughly $500,000 in SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grants from the National Science Foundation, most recently in August, and Waltham-based Kepha Partners has added a sprinkling of seed funding. Helping to launch Bluefin are Fleischman, Media Lab director Frank Moss, serial entrepreneur Andy Palmer, and Media Lab researcher Deb Roy. A permanent CEO hasn't yet been hired and the company, I'm told, isn't likely to launch before 2010.

Here's a bit more about Bluefin:

Before the company's Web site disappeared on Friday, it carried little information about Bluefin aside from job listings. The company is hiring software engineers with experience with natural language processing and video/image processing. Bluefin, it said, "is looking for software developers to help bring cutting edge video search technology out of MIT and apply it to the exciting world of consumer media."

Luckily, when companies apply for SBIR grants, they have to spill the beans. Here's more detail from Bluefin's Phase II grant proposal:


    [Bluefin's] objective is to commercialize a novel technology for indexing video. The company's approach automatically integrates information from speech, text, and video through algorithms that generate rich semantic indexes for video. The Phase I results show that this approach can be incorporated into a system that indexes video with high accuracy and at a fraction of the cost of currently used methods. Further, during the Phase I research, the company has identified a large and growing consumer market (sports video) in which the technology can be applied. The technical objectives of the Phase II proposal focus on working with such partners to roll out initial Bluefin-powered applications, such as content-based search and video-enriched fantasy sports. Such applications are currently not feasible because of the low accuracy of automated indexing methods and the high cost of manual approaches to indexing video.

    Millions of hours of new video content are coming online every month, feeding an exploding demand and reshaping the nature of the Internet. Just as text-oriented search engines were necessary to empower users to find what they needed during the first phase of the text-centric Internet, a new generation of technology will be necessary to organize and effectively find content in the fast-approaching video-dominated era of the Internet. ...While this differentiated technology can be leveraged in several target markets, the company's initial focus is on sports media where it will power a unique experience for video search, video-enhanced fantasy sports, and other video-centric applications.


Bluefin Lab will announce a name-change soon; the name doesn't really hint at what they're up to (perhaps intentionally), and it's too similar to another MIT spin-out: Bluefin Robotics, which makes autonomous undersea vehicles.

The company is actively talking with potential customers, presumably a sports broadcaster like ESPN or a digital media company.

This is yet another Media Lab spin-out (and Andy Palmer-connected venture) worth keeping an eye on...

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2 comments so far...
  1. do you REALLY think this is for sports video?

    Posted by James October 6, 09 12:17 AM
  1. The defense industry already does this type of video processing in spades. Too bad you'll never see it in action!

    Posted by tesla7224 October 9, 09 11:49 AM
 

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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