Superpixels are homogeneous image regions comprised of several contiguous pixels. They are produced by shattering the image into contiguous, homogeneous regions that each cover between 20 and 100 image pixels. The segmentation aims for a many-to-one mapping from superpixels to image features; each image feature could contain several superpixels, but each superpixel occupies no more than one image feature. This conservative segmentation is relatively easy to automate in a robust fashion.
Superpixel processing is related to the more general idea of improving hyperspectral analysis through spatial constraints, which can recognize subtle features at or below the level of noise by exploiting the fact that their spectral signatures are found in neighboring pixels. Recent work has explored spatial constraints for endmember extraction, showing significant advantages over techniques that ignore pixels’ relative positions. Methods such as AMEE (automated morphological endmember extraction) express spatial influence using fixed isometric relationships — a local square window or Euclidean distance in pixel coordinates. In other words, two pixels’ covariances are based on their spatial proximity, but are independent of their absolute location in the scene. These isometric spatial constraints are most appropriate when spectral variation is smooth and constant over the image.
Superpixels are simple to implement, efficient to compute, and are empirically effective. They can be used as a preprocessing step with any desired endmember extraction technique. Superpixels also have a solid theoretical basis in the hyperspectral linear mixing model, making them a principled approach for improving endmember extraction. Unlike existing approaches, superpixels can accommodate non-isometric covariance between image pixels (characteristic of discrete image features separated by step discontinuities). These kinds of image features are common in natural scenes.
Analysts can substitute superpixels for image pixels during endmember analysis that leverages the spatial contiguity of scene features to enhance subtle spectral features. Superpixels define populations of image pixels that are independent samples from each image feature, permitting robust estimation of spectral properties, and reducing measurement noise in proportion to the area of the superpixel. This permits improved endmember extraction, and enables automated search for novel and constituent minerals in very noisy, hyperspatial images.
This innovation begins with a graph-based segmentation based on the work of Felzenszwalb et al., but then expands their approach to the hyperspectral image domain with a Euclidean distance metric. Then, the mean spectrum of each segment is computed, and the resulting data cloud is used as input into sequential maximum angle convex cone (SMACC) endmember extraction.