Okawa prize awarded to University professor

By Kiran Sood

The Okawa Foundation in Tokyo, Japan, awarded University professor Thomas S. Huang the Okawa Prize last week. The award includes a certificate, gold medal and cash award of 10 million yen, or about $90,000 in U.S. currency.

The Okawa Prize, awarded annually since 1992, is intended to pay tribute to, and make public recognition of, persons who have made outstanding contributions to the research, technological development and business in the information and telecommunications fields, internationally, according to the Okawa Foundation Web site.

Takuji Matsumoto, senior managing director of the Okawa Foundation, said the Okawa Prize was established to commemorate the Foundation’s 5th anniversary. Huang was awarded the prize “for pioneering and sustaining contributions to the theory of image sequence analysis and its applications to video compression, pattern recognition and animation,” he said.

“Since 1996, the Foundation has expanded the Okawa Prize to include one winner in the U.S. in addition to one winner in Japan every year (since 1992),” Matsumoto said.

The Okawa Prize is not something you can apply for and it isn’t for any one project, said Huang, who also was awarded the University’s William L. Everitt Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering title.

“You receive it because of your international reputation in the broad field of Information and telecommunication technology,” Huang said. “Thus, I am very proud to be a recipient.”

His professional interests are computer vision, image compression and enhancement, pattern recognition, and multimodal signal processing.

“It’s more like a lifetime achievement award,” Huang said.

Huang’s wide-ranging work involving images focuses on areas such as human-computer interfaces, multimedia databases as well as 3-D modeling, analysis, and animation of the human face, hands and body. Among his past awards are the Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal and the King-Sun Fu Prize, the top honors, respectively, in signal processing and pattern recognition, internationally. Huang said he thought he was being considered for the Okawa Prize but didn’t expect it until receiving an announcement by e-mail.

That prize is a great honor to receive, said Steve McGaughey, employee of the External Relations Office at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University. The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University is an interdisciplinary research institute devoted to basic research in the physical sciences, computation, engineering, and biological, behavioral, and cognitive sciences.

Huang, co-chair of the Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction Research Initiative at Beckman, joins former University Chancellor Thomas Everhart as a winner of the award. Other prominent scientists honored include Lotfi Zadeh, the first U.S. Okawa prize recipient and developer of fuzzy logic theory, and last year’s winner, Raj Reddy of Carnegie Mellon University.

Huang is to be honored at a presentation ceremony in Tokyo on Nov. 24.