Professor Geoff Sullivan, 1944–1996

Geoff Sullivan, BA, MSc, Professor of Computational Vision at the University of Reading, died on 23rd August 1996, aged 52. He was born on 26 January 1944.

After graduating in Mathematics from Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1965, he moved to the University of Sussex to do research in Experimental Psychology. Here he gained a foundation in the physiology and psychology of visual perception, which, added to his mathematical training, enabled him to bring a broad insight to the field of computational vision.

In 1978 whilst still at Sussex Geoff joined the research group lead by Professor Keith Baker which at that time was working in the field of intelligent systems and included work in image processing. The direction of image processing aspect of the Groups work moved in the years that followed more strongly towards computer vision influenced by Geoff’s keen interest in exploration of the mechanisms of human vision.

The Alvey Vision Committee lead to the formation of the British Machine Vision Association (BMVA) of which Geoff was a founding member, later to become the Secretary of the organisation. Under the auspices of the BMVA his annual one day scientific meeting to explore the intersection of human and machine vision became a favourite event in the calendar of many researchers working in this interdisciplinary field.

Geoff moved with the group from Sussex to Plymouth and later to the University of Reading. After a period as a Principal Research Fellow he was, in 1990, appointed to a Readership in Computational Vision. In October 1995 he was promoted to a Personal Chair carrying the title Professor of Computational Vision.

The strength of the long term partnership between Geoff and Keith is reflected in the wide range of research contracts won by them as the Group grew in strength. Perhaps the most notable work and that for which the Group is best known stems from the work on model-based vision. The origin of this work can be traced directly to Geoff’s great knowledge of human vision and the influence this had on the development of the algorithms used in recognising objects in natural scenes.

More recently Geoff has been instrumental in the formation of research policy as a member of the SERC Systems Architecture Committee. He was keen to see wider application of machine vision and on behalf of this Committee formulated the Integrated Machine Vision programme. It was followed earlier this year by a successful strategic workshop convened by the BMVA entitled “Images at Work” to explore priorities for new research in image processing and machine vision expected to have significant commercial impact in the next fifteen to twenty years.

At the time of his death Geoff was, with Professor Horace Barlow, FRS and Professor Richard Gregory, FRS, in the process of organising a Discussion Meeting on Knowledge Based Vision to take place at the Royal Society in London on the 12/13 February 1997. Sadly this meeting will now take place without Geoff but will be dedicated to his memory.

Throughout his distinguished career, Geoff retained a romantic ideal of science as the search for knowledge and truth. He was an inspiring teacher of undergraduate and graduate students, encouraging and challenging them to exceed their own expectations. Geoff gave much to his subject and to the vision research community both nationally and internationally.

In the little time he spared from scholarship, Geoff was an early music enthusiast, an interest which began during his years at Sussex, where he made and learned to play his own viols. He found great delight playing in early music concerts and hill walking with his family and friends.

Geoff is survived by his wife Sallie, whom he met while they were at Oxford, their son Daniel and daughter Ioni.

Keith Baker and Jim Sullivan