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Making faces with Google Maps (pictures)

Can a computer find "faces" in the Earth's landscape by looking for patterns in Google Earth? See what you can recognize in these automated search results.

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Tim Hornyak
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Happy faces

We've all seen the so-called Face on Mars photographed by Viking 1 in 1976, but are there similar features on our own planet? Does Earth have unnoticed surface formations (like Canada's Badlands Guardian) that look like a human face? A team at German design studio Onformative is trying to find out.

The Google Faces project is using OpenFrameworks to scour Google Maps for features that look like faces. As the studio describes it: "Our agent flips through one satellite image after the other, in order to feed the face detection algorithm with landscape samples. The corresponding iteration algorithm steps sequentially along the latitude and longitude of our globe. Once the agent circumnavigated the world, it switches to the next zoom level and starts all over again."

The most impressive find from the project comes from Russia's Far East, in Magadan Oblast. This hilly terrain seems to hide not one but two faces in profile, and they're kissing! You can see a man on the left and a woman on the right (distinguished by her long, lowered eyelashes). Or is it all just hills and valleys?

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Automatic face finder

The OfxFaceTracker uses structures like the ones in this image, in which a face seems to pop out of a forested area. As the pictures in this gallery show, the face-tracking results are mixed. Do you see anything? Or is it just randomness?
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Old man Russia

This could just be hilly terrain in Magadan Oblast in Russia's Far East, or it could be an old man grimacing in profile. What do you see?
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Google the Grouch

Again in Russia's Far East, this grassy expanse is shot through with rivers. Or is that a scowling face peering out at you? Anyone see Oscar the Grouch?
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Sandy specter

This sinister face looks out from the dusty terrain of Xiahe County in China's Gansu Province. It might seem more suited to the geography of Mordor.
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Wrinkles and laughter

It's no surprise that Russia, with its vast wilderness, is producing many possible faces. This grinning formation is located in the remote hills of the Sakha Republic in Russia's Far East.
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Alaska look

This snapshot of part of Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve north of Anchorage doesn't seem to have any obvious faces. Is the software seeing something we can't? What do you see?
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Green man?

This rural scene from the town of Ashford in Kent, England, could be a collection of fields. Or is that circle of trees really a goatee under a long nose?
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Square eyes

Here's another puzzler from the face-recognition software: a farm in Shihezi City, Xinjiang, China. If the two squares are eyes and the oval is a mouth, it looks like a work of modern art or something out of a very old video game. What do you think?

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