We undertake to develop a general theory of shape by elucidating several principles which any such theory should meet. The principles are organized around two basic intuitions: first, if a boundary were changed only slightly, then, in general, its shape would change only slightly. This leads us to propose an operational theory of shape based on incremental contour deformations. The second intuition is that not all contours are shapes, but rather only those that can enclose ``physical'' material. A novel theory of contour deformation is derived from these principles, based on abstract conservation principles and Hamilton-Jacobi theory. The result is a characterization of the computational elements of shape: deformations, parts, bends, and seeds, which show where to place the components of a shape. The theory unifies many of the diverse aspects of shapes, and leads to a space of shapes (the reaction/diffusion space), which places shapes within a neighborhood of ``similar'' ones. Such similarity relationships underlie descriptions suitable for recognition.
B. Kimia (Brown University), A. Tannenbaum (U. of Minnesota), S.W. Zucker