In Memoriam

Edward M. Riseman (1942 - 2007)

Photo: Professor Emeritus Edward Riseman
Professor Emeritus Edward Riseman

Professor Emeritus Edward M. Riseman died at the age of 64 on February 26, 2007 at his home in Leeds, MA.

Professor Riseman retired in 2003 after 34 years of service with UMass Amherst, though he remained active in research within the Department after his retirement. He joined UMass Amherst as an Assistant Professor in 1969 (then an M.S. Program in Computer Science in the Graduate School), became a full professor in 1978, and served as Department Chair from 1981-1985.

“Ed was a valued and still very active member of our community who contributed in countless ways to the department, playing many key roles in helping it to grow and strengthen over the years,” says Department Chair Andrew Barto. He was also a valued friend and mentor to a great many of us and will be seriously missed.”

When Riseman arrived at UMass Amherst in 1969, Computer Science was a program in the graduate school. Then-Graduate Dean Ed Moore was fully supportive of the plan to create a Computer Science Department, so he approved the hiring of a junior faculty position. Riseman accepted the position risking that
the program might not be accepted by the University as a Department (COINS became a Ph.D. program in 1972). “We could not have made a better choice,” says Professor Emeritus Conrad Wogrin, who was the Acting Chair at the time of Riseman’s hiring. "I can't say enough good things about Ed. He served the department, he served the university and he served the society with his many accomplishments."

Riseman immediately started his research in character recognition upon arrival at UMass Amherst. He was willing to define his problem in its most difficult form, the recognition of hand written characters. “When we [the Department and Engineering] bought a new computer, the PDP 15, for the wrong reason, Ed quickly and skillfully used it to build his first lab. What might have been a financial blunder was transformed into a good move,” says Wogrin.

Photo: Professor Emeritus Edward Riseman
Ed receiving a commemorative gift from then-Department Chair Bruce Croft during the CS Homecoming 2006 celebration honoring Allen Hanson and Ed Riseman

Riseman’s research reflected a broad interest in computer vision and artificial intelligence, including knowledge-based image understanding, stereo and motion analysis, autonomous vehicle navigation, learning, three-dimensional reconstruction, image databases, content-based image retrieval and parallel processing, and architectures for computer vision. Emphasis on practical systems is supported by applications of photo-interpretation of aerial images including 3-D building and terrain reconstruction, biomedical image analysis, automated robotic manufacturing and assembly, real-time control of intelligent vehicles, terrain classification and fly-through visualization, and development environments for vision research. He was the author of more than 150 publications in these areas.

Riseman was instrumental in the establishment and success of the Department’s Computer Vision Laboratory, which he co-directed with Professor Allen Hanson. Riseman and Hanson also founded Amerinex Artificial Intelligence Corporation and Dataviews Corporation (formerly VI Corporation), both visual technology oriented companies located in the Amherst, Massachusetts area. Riseman and Hanson had successful collaborations with nearly every faculty member in the Department over the years, as well as with industry partners such as Martin Marietta, Lockheed, General Electric, Boeing, Kollmorgen, Harris, Raytheon and most recently, the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  This latter collaboration also includes Louisiana State University and is concerned with automated methods for counting plankton in the world’s oceans.  “Ed and I particularly liked ‘green’ applications for computer vision,” Hanson says.

Photo: Ed Riseman and Allen Hanson during the early days
Ed Riseman & Al Hanson during the early days of research

Some of Riseman’s and Hanson’s research accomplishments include pioneering work on vision understanding systems. Riseman, Hanson, and then student Tom Williams (Ph.D. ’81) designed one of the first knowledge-based image understanding systems that handled very complex natural images. A landmark book edited by Hanson and Riseman, Computer Vision Systems (Academic Press, New York, 1978), set the tone for much of the area’s research over the following ten years. The Vision Lab participated in the DARPA Unmanned Ground Vehicle Program, in which UMass Amherst was one of only two universities to have a military HMMWV (“HumVee”) on site for development of software for autonomous driving. As part of the DARPA RADIUS APGD program, UMass Amherst produced and delivered the only working system for reconstructing the three dimensional structure of the ground from aerial images. “Ed was one of the great leaders in the field of computer vision” says Hanson. The Vision group was one of the first in the Department to build a research laboratory, so the group’s computers became resources for the entire Department. “Ed tried to do what was best for the Department,” says Hanson. “He was always looking for ways to move the Department forward.”

Riseman’s most recent research involved the use of technology to support aging at home. This project, in cooperation with the Smith College School for Social Work, was designed to examine the role technology can play in the lives of our elder citizens.  The UMass Amherst/Smith project is unique in that it integrates the knowledge and perspectives of social scientists, computer scientists, and the elderly population.  “This was one of Ed’s pet projects,” Hanson says. “He was working very hard to make sure it was successful.”

Riseman was Chair of the Department from 1981 to 1985. “Ed as the department head was a dynamo,” says Wogrin. “At the time, the department had a number of very good people, a broad spectrum of research, and was moderately well funded. What Ed did was to inject a sense of optimism.” During his tenure as Chair, Riseman changed the culture of the Department to become very cooperative, where faculty worked together and respected one another’s views. Riseman recognized that it was key for the Department's growth to increase presence in the area of systems and theory, and he was able to obtain support from the University to build in those areas. Riseman was also instrumental in encouraging faculty to go after large grants that were key to creating a first-class research environment in the Department. “He made faculty at all levels feel that they had a voice in the directions of the Department,” says Professor Victor Lesser. “It is this spirit that lives on in our department, and which makes it special.”

Photo: Ed Riseman and Allen Hanson with current and former students and staff
Ed & Al with current and former students and staff during Homecoming 2006 held in October.

An accomplished researcher and leader, Riseman was also a dedicated teacher. During his tenure at UMass Amherst, Riseman was the advisor to 38 Ph.D. graduates (many co-supervised with Hanson). “His greatest legacy is in the students that have been members of the Visions group,” says Hanson.

Riseman was a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and a member of the Pattern Recognition Society. He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Clarkson College and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University in 1966 and 1969 respectively.

He is survived by his mother Matilida Birnbaum, son Seth Riseman and his wife Christina, daughter Sarah Riseman and her husband Charles Taylor, brother Glenn Birnbaum and his wife Kim Klemyk, sister Michelle Birnbaum, grandson Dae Orion Taylor, and many friends and colleagues.

A memorial service was held on March 12, 2007 at the Garden House in Look Park, Northampton. Donations may be made to the Edward Riseman Memorial Fund (Bank of America) from which donations in his name will be made to environmental and other charities that he supported. Should you decide to make a donation to the memorial fund, any Bank of America branch can accept your gift. All you need to do is mention the fund name (Edward Riseman Memorial Fund). If you have anecdotes about Ed that you would like to share with his family, send an email to