Shree Nayar Honored for Pioneering Research in Computer Vision

Nayar has won IEEE’s prestigious PAMI Distinguished Researcher Award for his seminal work on computational imaging and computer vision


Computer Scientist Shree K. Nayar has been awarded the PAMI Distinguished Researcher Award from IEEE for his seminal work on computational imaging and computer vision. Nayar, who is currently serving as Director of NYC Research at Snap, Inc. while on leave from Columbia Engineering, received the award at the International Conference on Computer Vision (ICCV), held in Seoul, South Korea this month.

“I am grateful to the computer vision research community for recognizing my contributions to the field,” says Nayar, the T. C. Chang Professor of Computer Science and Director of Columbia’s Computer Vision Laboratory. “I feel fortunate to have witnessed first-hand the remarkable evolution of computer vision over the past three decades. It is really exciting to see how vision technologies are now changing the way we live our lives.”

Nayar’s work has had a profound impact on how 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. Building on this paradigm, Nayar and his collaborators developed novel cameras for omnidirectional imaging, depth imaging, and high dynamic range imaging. His breakthrough in using assorted pixels for high dynamic range imaging exponentially improved the quality of smartphone cameras. It is estimated that over a billion smartphone users worldwide are using Nayar’s technology on a daily basis.

A second significant thread of Nayar’s research has been to understand how light interacts with the physical world. His models for surface reflection, interreflection, texture, and atmospheric scattering are used by both researchers and practitioners in computer vision, graphics, and other fields. The Oren-Nayar model for diffuse shading (developed with his first graduate student Michael Oren) is now widely used by the special effects and animation industry. Nayar’s inventions related to active illumination methods for shape recovery are today extensively used for visual inspection and factory automation. His models and algorithms for vision in conditions such as fog, haze, and rain enable vision systems for autonomous driving to function in poor weather conditions.

The PAMI Distinguished Researcher Award is awarded once every two years to two individuals whose research contributions have significantly contributed to the progress of computer vision. The second recipient of the award this year is William Freeman, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and a researcher at Google. Previous awardees include Yann LeCun (Facebook and NYU), Jitendra Malik (UC Berkeley), Andrew Zisserman (University of Oxford), and Rick Szeliski (Facebook).

In recognition for the broad impact of his work, Nayar was previously elected to the US National Academy of Engineering in 2008, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011, and the US National Academy of Inventors in 2015. As commendation for the impact of his inventions on the computer vision and digital imaging industry, he received the NTT Distinguished Scientific Award in 1994 and the Sony Appreciation Honor in 2014. 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.