New Australian software for counting hairs

Australian scientists have come up with a way of counting hairs - a boring manual job done by human assessors which is apparently open to variations, mistakes and human error.

CSIRO's Biotech Imaging team, specialise in developing software to analyse images automatically and by working with a British personal care products company they have found a way to count hairs.

The personal care company wanted a method of objectively testing how well their hair removal products work.

Dr Pascal Valloton, Leader of Biotech Imaging at CSIRO says the software developed uses images captured by a small flatbed scanner pressed onto the skin - the software crunches the numbers to analyse the image of skin and hairs and almost instantly delivers information about the length and number of hairs in the picture.

Dr Valloton says these can then be compared with earlier images to see if hair is growing quickly or slowly or has been properly removed by a product such as a depilatory cream.

In image analysis the hair is called a 'linear feature' and there are many ways of detecting linear features but the scientists say the software uses algorithms that exploit some special things about hairs, such as their relative straightness.

According to Dr Valloton the software can even detect hairs that people find hard to see and is not confused by variations in background skin colour or texture.

He says the linear feature algorithms the software uses are similar to those developed by the team for medical research to measure the branching structure of nerve cells and to find the boundaries of fat cells.

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