The motivation for generating a scale-space representation of a given data set originates from the basic observation that real-world objects are composed of different structures at different scales. This implies that real-world objects, in contrast to idealized mathematical entities such as points or lines, may appear in different ways depending on the scale of observation. For example, the concept of a “tree” is appropriate at the scale of meters, while concepts such as leaves and molecules are more appropriate at finer scales. For a computer vision system analysing an unknown scene, there is no way to know a priori what scales are appropriate for describing the interesting structures in the image data. Hence, the only reasonable approach is to consider descriptions at multiple scales in order to be able to capture the unknown scale variations that may occur. Taken to the limit, a scale-space representation considers representations at all scales.
Another motivation to the scale-space concept originates from the process of performing a physical measurement on real-world data. In order to extract any information from a measurement process, one has to apply operators of non-infinitesimal size to the data. In many branches of computer science and applied mathematics, the size of the measurement operator is disregarded in the theoretical modelling of a problem. The scale-space theory on the other hand explicitly incorporates the need for a non-infinitesimal size of the image operators as an integral part of any measurement as well as any other operation that depends on a real-world measurement.
There is a close link between scale-space theory and biological vision. Many scale-space operations show a high degree of similarity with receptive field profiles recorded from the mammalian retina and the first stages in the visual cortex. In these respects, the scale-space framework can be seen as a theoretically well-founded paradigm for early vision, which in addition has been thoroughly tested by algorithms and experiments.
Why a Gaussian filter?
When faced with the task of generating a multi-scale representation one may ask: could any filter g of low-pass type and with a parameter t which determines its width be used to generate a scale space? The answer is no, as it is of crucial importance that the smoothing filter does not introduce new spurious structures at coarse scales that do not correspond to simplifications of corresponding structures at finer scales. In the scale-space literature, a number of different ways have been expressed to formulate this criterion in precise mathematical terms.
The conclusion from several different axiomatic derivations that have been presented is that the Gaussian scale space constitutes the canonical way to generate a linear scale space, based on the essential requirement that new structures must not be created when going from a fine scale to any coarser scale.