A search engine that can locate a wide range of visual images is making its debut this autumn, as an added function for other applications or, perhaps, as an additional search function online. Idée is aiming for an October 31 beta release of a stand-alone version of Espion, a visual comparison engine that can be used to analyze, index, and retrieve images. The new application will be available as an add-on to Cumulus 5, a media asset management application from Canto Software, which made the announcement at the Seybold conference and expo this week. Espion is a versatile tool that can be used to locate images that are in a database, a folder, on the desktop, a network, or simply on a hard drive, says Leila Boujnane, Idée chief executive officer (CEO). Espion compares an original image against other images to find copies and altered versions of the original. The application displays pairs of matched images and details the likelihood of the match, as well as the degree of differences between the original image and an image in question. "It works with all kinds of pictures, graphics, even drawings and illustrations," says Paul Bloore, chief technology officer (CTO) for Idée. "It looks at colour, shape, texture, predominant objects, and other points of comparison, trying to mimic what a human being would see." Boujnane says the application is ideal for digital asset management in the publishing and entertainment industries, where companies work with large groups of images. "This will allow them to search visually rather than using text annotations that might not convey everything they are looking for and are susceptible to problems with interpretation," Boujnane says. Espion users can also use a drawing tool and colour palette to sketch the type of image they're looking for. The application then uses the drawing to ferret out images with similar characteristics. "This can search for very dominant attributes that I can sketch out very plainly," Bloore says. Idée is working on similar audio and video search applications that may be introduced next year. "You could use it to search videos looking for things like key scene changes or certain images or to do a visual comparison," Boujnane says. For audio, the search application is less complicated than it is for images, according to the Idée CTO. "Compared to images, music is a very confined search space," Bloore says. "Images can be all over the map, but songs have a unique beat."