Making Active Contours Fast

Active contours are a method of image segmentation. They are well-loved for their accuracy, ease of implementation, and nice mathematical underpinnings. However, a full level-set implementation can be quite slow, especially when dealing with large data! Here are some tips to speed things up. By combining these ideas and solid programming techniques I’ve been able to get active contour trackers running at hundreds of frames per second!
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Sparse Field Active Contours

Active contour methods for image segmentation allow a contour to deform iteratively to partition an image into regions. Active contours are often implemented with level sets. The primary drawback, however, is that they are slow to compute. This post presents a technical report describing, in detail, the sparse field method (SFM) proposed by Ross Whitaker [pdf], which allows one to implement level set active contours very efficiently. The algorithm is described in detail, specific notes are given about implementation, and source code is provided.

Fast Level Sets Demo

The links below point to the technical report and a demo written in C++/MEX that can be run directly in MATLAB. The demo implements the Chan-Vese segmentation energy, but many energies can be minimized using the provided framework.

Sparse Field Method – Technical Report [pdf]
Sparse Field Method – Matlab Demo [zip]

To run the MATLAB demo, simply unzip the file and run:
>>sfm_chanvese_demo
at the command line. On the first run, this will compile the MEX code on your machine and then run the demo. If the MEX compile fails, please check your MEX setup. The demo is for a 2D image, but the codes work for 3D images as well.

My hope is that other researchers wishing to quickly implement Whitaker’s method can use this information to easily understand the intricacies of the algorithm which, in my opinion, were not presented clearly in Whitaker’s original paper. Personally, these codes have SUBSTANTIALLY sped up my segmentations, and are allowing me to make much faster progress towards completing my PhD!

Thanks to Ernst Schwartz and Andy for helping to find small bugs in the codes and documentation. (they’re fixed now!)

This code can be used according to the MIT license. As long as this work is appropriately cited and attributed, and not being used for proprietary or commercial purposes, I’m fully supportive of you using it. Please drop me a line if it helps you!

For more information regarding active contour, segmentation, and computer vision, check here: Computer Vision Posts