Voronoi Diagrams of Polygons:
A Framework for Shape Representation.
V. T. Rajan2
1Department of Computer & Information Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville, Fl 32611
2 IBM T. J. Watson Research Center
P.O Box 218, Yorktown Heights, New York, NY 10598.
Conditionally accepted by
the Journal of Mathematical Imaging & Vision
C,.I,1'/.',i,,ll.i accepted for publication in the
Journal of Mathematical Imaging & Vision
Voronoi Diagrams of Polygons: A Framework for
Shape Representation *
Niranjan Mayya1 and V. T. Rajan2
1Department of Computer & Information Sciences
University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611
2 Manufacturing Research Department,
IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center,
P.O. Box 218, Yorktown Heights, New York 10598
This paper describes an efficient shape representation framework for planar shapes using
This paper makes the following significant contributions. First a new .l/,, 'l1,,i for the
construction of the Voronoi diagram of a polygon with holes is described. The main features
of this algorithm are its robustness in handling the standard degenerate cases (colinearity of
more than two points; co-circularity of more than three points.), and its ease of implementa-
tion. It also features a robust numerical scheme to compute non-linear parabolic edges that
avoids having to solve equations of degree greater than two. The algorithm has been fully
implemented and tested on a variety of test inputs.
Second, the Voronoi diagram of a polygon is used to derive accurate and robust skeletons
for planar shapes. The shape representation scheme using Voronoi skeletons possesses the
important properties of connectivity as well as Euclidean metrics. Redundant skeletal edges
are deleted in a pruning step which guarantees that connectivity of the skeleton will be pre-
served. The resultant representation is stable with respect to being invariant to perturbations
along the boundary of the shape. A number of examples of shapes with and without holes
are presented to demonstrate the features of this approach.
*Also exists as IBM Research Report RC 19282, 11/23/93
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KEYWORDS: Voronoi Diagrams of Polygons, Skeletons, Medial Axis Transform, Shape Repre-
The representation and description of planar shapes or regions that have been segmented out of an
image are early steps in the operation of most Computer Vision systems; they serve as a precursor
to several possible higher level tasks such as object/character recognition.
The symmetric or medial axis transformation (SAT, MAT), also known as the skeleton is a
well known tool used in shape modelling. Pavlidis  provides a formal definition: "Let R be a
plane set, B its boundary, and P a point in R. A nearest neighbor of P on B is a point M in
B such that there is no other point in B whose distance from P is less than the distance PM.
If P has more than one nearest neighbor, then P is said to be a skeletal point of R. The union
of all skeletal points is called the skeleton or medial axis of R." An analogous definition is given
by Blum using the well-known prairie fire analogy ; if one applies fire to all the sides of P, and
let the fire propagate at constant speed, then the skeleton is the locus of points where fire wave
The skeleton of a planar object relates the internal structure of the object to significant bound-
ary features. It is a compact descriptor of the "natural" shape of an object, that well describes
its global topological and geometric properties. Skeletons have been widely used in higher level
computer vision tasks such as object/character recognition, as they provide a more explicit, com-
pact and stable representation as compared to the original intensity map of an image. Another
important feature exhibited by skeletons is that the compact thin line representation is invariant
to minor distortions on the contour, which allows for stable representation schemes.
Skeletons have been widely used to solve problems in object recognition , to model and
characterize the geometry of nonrigid biological forms [5, 11], in character recognition  among
1.1 Algorithms for Skeletonization
Most implementations for computing the skeleton to date use discrete space concepts that only
approximate Blum's definition. In particular, preserving important properties such as conne. /,',,'/li
and Euclidean metrics have been difficult to achieve in the discrete world. The various algorithms
and implementations that have been published to date can be classified into three different groups
* Topological thinning.
Medial Axis extraction from a distance map.
Analytic computation of a skeleton based on an approximation of the object contour.
Thinning Algorithms: A large class of thinning algorithms examine the topological relevance of
object pixels rather than the metric properties of the shape. Typically, object pixels are repetitively
tested and subsequently deleted, whenever their removal does not alter the topology of the thinned
shape. The advantage of this approach to skeletonization is that they ensure connected skeletons
using fast algorithms. However the prime disadvantage is that the discrete domain gives rise to
non-Euclidean metrics. Different thinning algorithms applied on the same image can result in
skeletons that vary. These problems are in part due to different pixel "removal condil I,,n" that
are defined in terms of local configurations.
Medial Axis extraction from a distance map: The second method of skeleton extraction
requires the computation of a distance map that is to determine, for each point inside the object,
the distance of the closest point from its boundary. Depending on the metric used for distance,
a wide array of possible distance maps can be obtained. Unfortunately, the easiest and simplest
algorithms are those based on non-Euclidean metrics, which lead to skeletons that are not very
accurate in terms of the fire front paradigm. However, algorithms to compute correct Euclidean
distance maps exist . Skeletonization algorithms using quasi-Euclidean and Euclidean maps
follow ridges in the distance map to obtain the skeleton. The problem with this method is that
conne. l,'.,'l,'i is not guaranteed .
Analytic computation of the symmetric axes: The third method involves computation of the
symmetric axes by a direct analytical method based on the polygonal approximation of a shape.
Early work using this approach was by Montanari  who solves systems of linear equations to
compute loci of equidistant points.
The Voronoi diagram is a useful geometric structure which contains the entire planar proximity
information of a set of points . This allows for easy computation of the distance map from
the Voronoi diagram. Further, the Voronoi diagram of the boundary line segments of a polygon
is closely associated to its medial axis. In fact, the medial axis is 111, 1il, contained in the set of
Voronoi edges of the ,,'.lm;,, and is obtained by deleting the two Voronoi edges incident with each
concave vertex . Thus construction of the Voronoi diagram is one technique for skeletonization
of polygonal shapes.
1.2 Skeletons Derived from Voronoi Diagrams
Using the Voronoi diagram to compute the skeleton of a polygonal shape is attractive because
it results in skeletons which are connected while retaining Euclidean metrics. Furthermore, we
obtain an exact medial axis, compared to an approximation provided by other methods. Thus we
may reconstruct exactly an original polygon from its skeleton, (invertibility, one-to-one mapping).
Finally, algorithms to compute the Voronoi diagram (and hence the skeleton) are much faster than
approaches that compute a distance map.
However, we observe that there are some disadvantages of using Voronoi diagrams to derive
skeletons. We -i.--. -1 that any method that utilizes Voronoi diagrams of polygons to compute
skeletons must overcome the disadvantages listed below, before it can be of practical value.
Natural shapes are non-polygonal. Thus, accurate polygonal approximations of such shapes
are required in order to compute skeletons without loss of accuracy.
The skeleton of a many sided polygon (of very short sides) will have a large number of
redundant edges because of the Voronoi edges at these vertices. This results in an increase
in the complexity of the skeleton, without significant addition of any shape information.
Finally, robust and practical algorithms (those affording ease of implementation) for Voronoi
diagram construction of polygons are not very common. Most existing algorithms make
assumptions about cocircularity of no more than three points, and colinearity of no more
than two. These constraints are difficult to satisfy in most practical applications.
1.3 Voronoi Skeletons for Character Recognition
In this paper we present an efficient shape representation framework based on Voronoi skeletons.
The basis of our approach is a new algorithm for computing the Voronoi diagram of a polygon.
Our skeletonization algorithm retains the advantages of Voronoi diagrams described in the previous
section, ( ,,'.', /.'.I.'/ii. Euclidean metrics and high accuracy). This approach is thus a marked
improvement over traditional skeletonization methods. Furthermore we avoid the pitfalls of Voronoi
skeletons, by overcoming the disadvantages identified in the previous section.
The original contributions made by this paper may be enumerated as follows:
1. A new algorithm for the construction of the Voronoi diagram of a o.'/h,;li,', with holes. This
algorithm is practical and robust. Our Voronoi diagram algorithm is simple to implement.
Assumptions about points being in general position are unnecessary. Unlike most geometric
algorithms, special cases such as cocircularity of greater than three points or colinearity of
more than two points are handled elegantly. In addition, our algorithm features a robust nu-
merical scheme to compute non-linear parabolic edges that avoids having to solve equations
of degree greater than two.
2. An accurate scheme for skeletonization that retains the advantages of Voronoi skeletons
while overcoming its unattractive features. In particular, the scheme provides skeletons that
maintain Euclidean metrics without sacrificing connectivity. The method is stable with
respect to being invariant to perturbations along the boundary. This is achieved by pruning
redundant or spurious edges that do not significantly add to shape information. We will see
that the pruning step is a simple consequence of the Voronoi diagram algorithm and does
not require any postprocessing. Further, our approach handles shapes with and without holes
in a seamless manner, without resorting to special initialization.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. In Sections 2 and 3 we present our algorithm
for the computation of the Voronoi diagram of a polygon. and discuss its time complexity. In
Section 4 we present the details of the skeletonization scheme and present various examples to
demonstrate its features. Our conclusions and future research directions are presented in Section
2 The Voronoi Diagram
The Voronoi diagram of a set of sites in two dimensions is the partition of the plane into regions;
each region i containing the set of points in the plane closest to the site i.
In the most common case which has been exhaustively researched in the past decade, the sites
under consideration are points in the plane. In this case, edges of the diagram are straight line
segments that are perpendicular bisectors of pairs of sites. Optimal algorithms as well as robust
implementations have been devised for this version of the problem.
The notion of a site has been generalized to include a collection of two-dimensional objects
such as line segments and circular arcs. In the case of line segments, the edges of the ensuing
Voronoi diagram are not just straight-line segments, but also arcs of parabola, since they separate
the loci of proximity of object pairs of the types (point, point), (line, line), (point, line); the last
of these pairs give rise to arcs of parabola. In the case of circular arcs, the Voronoi bisectors
can be general conic sections. Much research effort has also been expended in this direction. In
particular, Lee and Drysdale  have a O(nlog2 n) time algorithm for the Voronoi diagram of a
mixed collection of n objects (including line segments and circles). Kirkpatrick  presented the
first optimal O(n log n) solution; Fortune  and Yap  also have optimal algorithms. Fortune's
algorithm computes Voronoi diagrams of line segments; Yap considers simple curve segments.
While some of these algorithms are optimal in terms of time complexity, they are not amenable
to simple implementation. Some work has been performed in this direction as well; notably the
work of Srinivasan and Nackman  and Meshkat and Sakkas , where the authors present
a simple algorithm for the Voronoi diagram of multiply connected polygonal domains (polygons
In this section we present an algorithm which solves a slightly more general version of the
problem than that of Srinivasan and Nackman. While the working examples shown are those of
polygons with holes, the algorithm presented here can compute the Voronoi diagram of a Planar
Straight Line Graph. The algorithm is easy to implement, and has been fully implemented and
tested. Another important feature is its robustness; the algorithm handles the standard degenerate
cases inherent in most Computational Geometry algorithms (more than 2 collinear or more than
3 co-circular points). This facilitates its use in most practical applications.
In this section, we will introduce some definitions and notation. Definitions 1 through 8 pertain
to the definition of polygonal domains and Voronoi diagrams and are taken from .
Definition 1 A closed line segment [a, b] is the union of two endpoints a and b and the open line
segment (a, b).
(a) 2 point sites (b) 1 point and 1 line
(a) 2 point sites .
(c) the point site is an
end point of the line
Figure 1: Bisectors of e, and cj
Definition 2 A ,,,,ll.'l,1i-connected l,.,;,i,.,l,1 domain P is the closure of a ,..., ,,.;/,.il bounded,
connected, open (in the relative topology) subset of R2 whose boundary is the union of a finite
number of closed line segments.
The boundary of P, denoted by 6P, consists of one or more disjoint subsets. The outer boundary
of the polygonal domain is denoted by 6Po and contains P. The inner boundaries represent the
holes of the polygonal region and are denoted by 6Pi, 1 < i < H, where H denotes the number of
Definition 3 The vertices of 6P are the points of intersection of the closed line segments which
constitute 6P. The edges of 6P are the open line segments obtained by deleting the endpoints of
the closed line segments which constitute SP
Definition 4 The projection p(q, [a, b]) of a point q onto a closed segment [a, b] is the intersection
of the line through a and b and the line perpendicular to [a, b] and passing through q.
Definition 5 The bisector B(ei, Cj) of two sites ec, and ej, is the locus of points equidistant from
ei and cj.
Definition 6 The half-plane h(e, cj) is the set of points closer to site ec than to site cj. Its
complement, h(ec, ej), is the set of points not closer to site ec than to cj.
The nature of the bisector is determined by the nature of the sites (point, line). In particular,
when both e and ej are point sites, the bisector is a straight line (the perpendicular bisector of
e and ej. When one of the sites is a point, and the other is an open line segment the bisector
is in general a parabolic arc. For the special case where the point is one of the endpoints of the
open line segment, the bisector is a straight line passing through the point and perpendicular to
the open line segment. See Figure 1.
Definition 7 Given a set of sites S, and a site ec, ei S, the Voronoi region of ei with respect
to S, denoted by V(ei, S) is the set of all points closer to ec than to any site in S.
Lemma 1 V(ec, S) = n,,sh(ec, ej)
Proof: Corollary 2, Lemma 1 of  m
Definition 8 The Voronoi diagram, VOD(S), of a set of elements, S = ec is given by UeesV(ei, S-
2.2 Primitives used in the Algorithm
A site e can be either a point or an open line segment. Each such site is associated with the
1. A contact point xpi. For a point site, the contact point is the site itself; for a line site, the
contact point is one of the endpoints.
2. A distance function di(xo); returning the square of the distance of a point x0 from site ei.
For a line site, the distance of a point to the site is defined as the distance from the point
x0 to its projection on the line site e. Given this definition, we can define the distance of
a point to any site (either a point or a line) as follows, Given a line site, let Tn be its unit
vector. If I is the identity matrix, and T denotes the transpose of a matrix, we define a 2 x 2
matrix M as
M = I for a point site,
= I ni ni for a line site
Now we define the distance function as,
di(xo) = (xo Xi) M (xo Xp,)
3. A gradient vector g(xo); which is defined by.
gj(xo) = 2(xo Xp) M
4. the quadratic polynomial fi(xo + Ur); giving the square of the distance of the point
(xo + Ur) from the site i. Here U is a direction vector, and r is a scalar multiple. We have
.f(xo + Ur) = (xo Xpi) M (xo Xp,) + gi(xo) T7 + U rM T 2
= dj(xo) + g1(xo) T + i'TM T2
The Voronoi diagram gives us a complete description of the function t(x), that returns the distance
of the point x to the closest site in the set S. In particular,
A Voronoi region (face) is characterized by a single site ep; the function is given by ti(x).
A Voronoi edge is characterized by two sites, e and ej; the edge comprises the set of points
where ti(x) = tj(x).
A Voronoi vertex is characterized by 3 or more sites, i, j, k,...m; the vertex satisfies the locus
tQ(x) = tj(x) = tk(x) = ...tm(.X).
Given an initial Voronoi vertex and the initial direction of the Voronoi edge emanating out of
that vertex, we follow the path traced by this edge to determine the vertex at the other end. Every
other site is examined to find the closest site that determines the new vertex. The new vertex is
equidistant from three or more sites, every pair of which gives rise to a possible new Voronoi edge.
The new Voronoi edges are added to an unexamined Edge List. The program terminates when all
the edges have been traced.
Given a pair of successive segments of any polygonal region, this gives rise to the following 3
Voronoi edges. See Figure 2a. BA and AC are 2 successive sides of a polygon. There are 3 sites
corresponding to these 2 sides; two line sites e1 and e2 corresponding to the open line segments
BA and AC, and the point site e3. The 3 Voronoi edges corresponding to these sites are shown by
the dashed lines. 11 is the bisector of 62 and e3, 12 that of c6 and e3, and 13 the 61, 62 bisector. If
we are considering the Voronoi diagram of the interior of the polygonal region alone, we are only
concerned with those Voronoi edges inside the region. These are easily obtained by considering only
the (line,line) bisectors (the 13 type edges) of every convex pair of successive polygon segments. for
the outer boundary of the polygon, and the (point,line) edges (the 11 and 12 type edges) for every
concave pair of successive polygon segments. For the inner boundaries (the holes), we perform the
reverse. Figure 2b shows the complete initialization for a simple case. The vertices of the polygon
are also Voronoi vertices. Each of the edges determined in this step are added to the unexamined
/ 12 2
(a) Voronoi edges of 2 (b) Initialization for a
sides of a polygon polygon with holes
Figure 2: Initialization
The unexamined Edge List holds edges which have been only partly determined. Specifically,
the information known is the starting point, and the initial direction along which we must traverse
to determine the other points along the edge. As has been noted earlier, if the Voronoi edge is a
(point, point) or (line, line) bisector, it will be a straight line; in which case there is only a single
terminating Voronoi vertex to be determined. If we have a (point, line) bisector, the Voronoi edge
is a parabolic curve; this curve has to be traced and intermediate points along it computed to
fully determine the Voronoi edge. The curve tracing step is the topic of the next section.
2.3.3 Curve Tracing
Consider a Voronoi edge E from the Edge List. The initial starting point is 0o, which is a Voronoi
vertex equidistant from 3 or more sites, e, ej, ek...,m. Assume, without loss of generality that the
edge being traced is a bisector of sites e; and ej. The initial direction of the bisector is determined
upto the linear order and is given by U = (gi(xo) gj(xo))', where a1 denotes a unit vector
perpendicular to the vector a. For the linear case, the bisector is along the direction of 5U. When
the bisector is of quadratic order (in the (point, line) case), U gives the tangent to the curve at
the point xo. See Figure 3.
B ) B(ei,ej/
-- V -5- V
(a) B(ei, ej) is along the (b) F'is tangent to B(ei, ej)
direction of V at Xo
Figure 3: Initial Direction for a Voronoi edge
Now consider the function fi(xo + Ur). r parameterizes points along the vector 5U. Recall that
f is a quadratic polynomial in r that gives the square of the distance from a site el to the point
(xo + 5r).
Let f = max (f, fj). When the bisector is a straight line edge, it is along the direction of U,
and hence in this case fi = fj. In the non-linear case, fi and fj will not be identical beyond the
linear term and f represents the greater of the two.
At xo, T = 0, and by definition of a Voronoi vertex, we have
fi = fj = fk ... fm < fi V 1 (S -(ei, ej, ek, ..E))
We need to trace a path starting at xo, such that
f < fk,.., fm, fl Ve 1 (S (e, ej, ek,..,))
Figure 4: Relevant region for ej: r (tl, t2)
A new vertex is found when we reach a point where
fi = fj = fl for some site el
With respect to every line site e, is associated a relevant region of a given bisector U expressed
as an interval of T, determined by the contact points from the bisector to the endpoints of the
site. See Figure 4.
We need to ensure that the set of constraints admitted by f < fi V 1 is maintained at every point
on the bisector of i and j. This is achieved as follows. We first determine the admissible range of
T, for each site 1. The admissible range is computed as the complement of the inadmissible range
of T, which is defined as the region where f > fi in the relevant region of el. Thus
Tadmissible [0, ]- Tinadmissible
Tadmissiblei is computed for every site e; and the intersection of these regions gives us Tfinal-
Ifinal = neEST admissible
Note that Tfinal can be a set of intervals, one of which will be [0, r,]. This is the interval of interest;
0 corresponds to the initial Voronoi vertex, and T, the T value for the new vertex. The new vertex
is given by
Xt = Xo + Z7,
Let el be the site that determined the value of T = T,. Then at xt, f = fi. When the bisector
of e and ej is a line, the new vertex determined by this procedure is in fact a Voronoi vertex
corresponding to the sites e, ej and e, since, for this case fi = fj along U and at xt, we have
f = fj = fl.
2.3.4 The Non-linear Case: Tracing Parabolic Edges
In the non-linear case, xt is a point on the linear approximation of the bisector. In this case, we
employ an iterative technique to converge onto the Voronoi vertex at the other end of the curve.
Having determined xt, a point on the linear approximation of the bisector, we need to move back
to a point on the curve itself. It is easy to see that we will intersect the bisector B(e, ej) if we
move along the contact vector -g(xt) towards the the point site. Thus, it is easy to determine xil,
an intermediate point along B(e, ej). See Figure 5. In Lemma 2, we prove that this procedure is
guaranteed not to overshoot the Voronoi vertex; namely, the open interval of the bisector B(e, ej)
between the points xo and x1l contains no Voronoi vertex. Having determined an intermediate
point on the bisector, the procedure is repeated using a new value for v that is given by U =
(gi(xti) gj(xtl))'. The procedure terminates when we arrive at a point x't, which corresponds
to a site e, such that fi = fj = f,. xt, is the new Voronoi vertex.
We note that the rate of convergence of the iteration is the same as that of Newton's method,
since we are approximating an arc by a straight line.
Lemma 2 The open interval of the bisector B(e, ej) between the points xo and xil contains no
Voronoi vertex. Ti,,i is, for this set of points fi = fj < fk; k i,j.
Proof: Consider an arbitrary point x in the open line segment (xo, Xt). (See Figure 6.) If the
bisector is non-linear then one of the sites e, ej will be closer and the other one further from x.
Let ej be the closer site, so that fj(x) < fi(x) = f(x) < fk(x); k i,j. Draw a circle of radius
y/f centered at x. This circle will contain portions of site ej in its interior, and will touch site ec
and all other sites ek will lie outside this circle. Shrink this circle such that it continues to touch
site e and it center continues to lie on the line connecting the point x to the contact point of the
circle with e until the circle just touches ej. The center of the circle will move in the direction
-, (x) and the new center will be the point x1 which lies on the bisector B(e, ej). The shrunk
circle lies in the interior of the original circle and hence all sites ek, k i,j will continue to lie
outside the circle. Hence at the point x1, fi(xi) = fj(xi) < fk(xi), k i,j. Hence x1 cannot be a
Voronoi vertex. Since by choosing all the points in the interval (xo, xt) in the open line segment
we get every point on the bisector B(e, ej) in the interval (xo, xtl) this result holds for the entire
Figure 5: Finding an intermediate point on the curve
Figure 6: Proof of Lemma 2
2.3.5 Increasing Robustness
While the above curve tracing procedure is guaranteed to converge to a Voronoi vertex. In the
non-linear case however, it is possible that as we come closer and closer to the vertex, the very small
distances involved in the numerical comparisons give rise to numerical problems that adversely
affect robustness. This is particularly true when two Voronoi vertices are extremely close to each
The procedure outlined below reduces the number of times we need to employ the curve tracing
procedure to obtain parabolic Voronoi edges. The basic idea is to defer the tracing of parabolic
Voronoi edges until all (or most) of the Voronoi vertices have been determined. This implies that
when we determine the new edges arising out of a newly computed Voronoi Vertex, the non-linear
edges are added to the end of the unexamined Edge List and the linear edges are added to the
front of the List. Thus most of the linear edges will be examined before the non-linear ones,
and consequently most of the Voronoi vertices will be determined before the non-linear edges are
traced. The truth of the last statement stems from the fact that there must be at least one linear
edge arising out of any Voronoi vertex.
Recall that the unexamined Edge List contains Voronoi edges that have not been completely
determined. In particular, only the starting vertex and the direction of the edge is known. Thus,
if the two endpoints of a given edge are determined as a result of tracing two different edges that
terminate in the respective endpoints, we will have two entries in the unexamined Edge List that
represent the same Voronoi edge. The procedure currently followed is to trace a given edge, and
if the new vertex determined at the other end of the edge already exists, this implies that there
must be another entry in the unexamined Edge List corresponding to the edge being traced.
If there are two unexamined parabolic edges that are bisectors of the same pair of sites, each
of which start from a different Voronoi vertex, we can avoid the curve tracing procedure if we
can confirm that the two vertices are the two endpoints of a single Voronoi edge. Intermediate
points on the curve are determined easily by using the same technique used in the curve tracing
How often will such a case occur namely, that the two vertices of a parabolic Voronoi edge
be determined before the parabolic edge is traced ? Since there must be there must be at least
one linear edge arising out of any Voronoi vertex, most of the vertices of the Voronoi diagram can
be determined by tracing the straight line edges before the parabolic edges. Tracing a straight
line edge is a much simpler (and hence more robust) numerical operation than that for tracing
parabolic edges. What remains is to devise a simple procedure to verify that two vertices that are
the starting points of two unexamined parabolic edges are the endpoints of a single Voronoi edge.
The following Lemma gives us the basis for such a procedure.
Lemma 3 Let El and E2 be two unexamined parabolic edges, corresponding to the same pair of
sites ei and cj such that El starts from Voronoi vertex A and E2 from vertex B. T/i, AB is a
single Voronoi (parabolic) edge if the linear approximations from A and B cross each other.
Proof: Consider Figure 7. Subfigures 7a, 7b and 7c depict the various cases that can arise
when iterating from A and B simultaneously.
In Case 1 (7a), the linear approximations AA' and BB' do not cross, but the line drawn from
the point site ec through A' (respectively B') meets the line BB' (respectively AA') in a point that
belongs to the open interval BB' (respectively AA'). Let the line from ci through A' meet BB'
in B". Then at B" fj < fi = f < fk, for all k / i,j. From Lemma 2, we know that this relation
(b) Case 2
A ", B'
A -- A'
(d) Case 3a
(e) Case 3b
Figure 7: Figure for Lemma 3
(a) Case 1
(c) Case 3
holds as we move towards e;. Hence at A', we must have fj < f; = f < fk. But since A' is the
linear approximation of the Voronoi vertex starting from A, we must have fj = fk at A' for some
site k. Thus the linear approximation from A cannot terminate at A'. Hence Case 1 is impossible,
and we must have either Case 2 or Case 3.
In Case 2, the two linear approximations cross. Lemma 2 guarantees that we cannot overshoot
a Voronoi vertex; hence there can be no Voronoi vertex from BB' or AA' along the curve. Hence
AB must be a single parabolic edge. It is possible to determine intermediate points on the curve
by projecting back from points on the lines AC and BC to the site e;.
Finally, it is possible to have a situation as depicted in Case 3. Here the two linear approxi-
mations do not intersect. In such a case, we need to repeat the procedure starting at one of the
points A' or B'. If the new edge starting from A' crosses the one starting from B, as shown in
Case 3a, we have verified that AB is a single Voronoi edge, or repeated iterations may converge
to two new Voronoi vertices C and D as in Case 3b, and we have found two Voronoi edges AC
and BD. m
2.3.6 Adding New Edges
Having computed a new Voronoi vertex Xt, we must first perform a check to determine if this
vertex has been found before. If this vertex has been computed earlier, it means that there must
exist in the Edge List, an unexamined edge with starting point Xz. This edge must be deleted from
the Edge List, since it has now been fully determined. If the new vertex has not been computed
before, we proceed on determining all the edges coming out of this vertex.
We first need to determine all the other sites equidistant from this vertex, and then determine
the new Voronoi edges that emanate out of the new vertex.
The first step is easy to perform; all sites el, which satisfy
di(x ) = d;(x ) = dj(xt)
lie on the circle of radius d?(xt), centered at the new Voronoi vertex Xt.
The second step is to determine all the edges coming out of this vertex. In general, if we have k
sites equidistant from a vertex, there can be pairs of possible edges, but all of these will not
be Voronoi edges. From the vector g(xt), for each site e;, we can determine the point of contact
I ..----------- -
S /2/ .""
-k/2 / \ ek
(a) 3 cocircular point sites (b) 4 co-circular sites with 1 line
(a) 3 co-circular point sites .
Figure 8: Determining edges from the convex hull of points of contact
of -. /2 with e. If we denote the points of contact as yi, the convex hull of all the yi determines
which pairs of sites correspond to Voronoi edge. Every convex hull edge, gives a pair of sites that
correspond to a Voronoi edge. Thus if we have k equidistant sites from the vertex xt, there are
exactly k Voronoi edges. See Figure 8.
One of these k edges is the edge which was just traced. The other k 1 edges are appended
to the unexamined Edge List. The head of the Edge List is then examined and the procedure
repeats until the List is empty.
Due to the incremental nature of the edge tracing algorithm, we do not need to make any
assumptions about points in general position. Hence co-circularity of more than 3 sites can be
2.4 Time Complexity
Let the number of sites in the input be n,, the number of Voronoi edges be n, and the number of
Voronoi vertices be n,.
The initialization step is of the order of the number of sites in the input, since a single pass
over the input suffices to create the initial edges and append them to the unexamined Edge List.
This step takes O(n,) time.
Each edge that is added to the diagram in the edge tracing step requires us to examine each
site to determine the closest site. Also, we need to search the list of current Voronoi vertices to
check for the existence of a new vertex. Hence, we need O(n, + n,) time for each new edge found.
The total time required for the algorithm is therefore O(npn, + nne,). By Euler's formula the
number of Voronoi edges is 2n, 3 and the number of Voronoi vertices n, 2. Hence the time
complexity is O(n ).
3 Skeletonization using Voronoi diagrams
In this section, we describe our technique for obtaining skeletons of planar shapes that are derived
from Voronoi diagrams.
3.1 Preprocessing: Computing a polygonal approximation
In order to compute the Voronoi diagram of a shape, we first segment the shape's boundary and
derive a polygonal approximation of its bounding contour. In our implementation, we used the
zero crossings obtained from an image filtered with a Laplacian of a Gaussian , to obtain a
bounding contour. The advantage of this technique is that it guarantees closed contours, which
ensures that a contour tracing algorithm such as chain coding will converge quickly. From the
chain coded bounding contour, critical points (those that reflect significant change in curvature) are
retained; these serve as the vertices of the polygonal approximation for each (planar) shape. The
input shapes were approximated to ensure that significant changes in curvature would be retained,
while minor distortions that could result in noise spurs in the skeleton representation would be
smoothed over. Thus, we limited the occurrence of redundant edges in each representation.
3.2 Computing the Voronoi Diagram and extracting Skeletons
Given the vertices for a polygonal approximation as determined above, we computed the Voronoi
diagram using the algorithm described in Section 2. The medial axis  of a polygonal shape
can be derived from its Voronoi diagram by deleting those edges that arise from concave vertices
of the polygon. (See Section 2.) The data structure we employ for Voronoi edges contained the
information required to determine these edges. Hence it is easy to identify (and delete) edges that
emerge from concave vertices of a polygon. However, the resultant medial axis is characterized
(b) Polygonal Approximation
(c) Voronoi Diagram
(d) Pruned Skeleton
Figure 9: Voronoi Skeletonization of Planar Shapes
by a very large number of edges, as every vertex of the polygonal approximation (both concave
and convex) gives rise to a Voronoi edge. Many of these Voronoi edges are redundant; i.e. they
do not provide any additional structural information about the planar shape. Hence we include a
pruning technique to delete these redundant edges.
3.3 The Pruning operator
As shown in Figure 9, the vertices of the initial polygonal approximation of the shape lead to a
large number of edges that do not contribute to overall shape information. In a Voronoi diagram
every Voronoi edge is a bisector of two sites on the boundary of a polygon; in particular the
Voronoi edges at the vertices of a polygon are bisectors of adjacent sites. If the sides of a polygon
(a) Planar Shape
are numbered in counterclockwise order along the boundary, we can define the II,,1i,. i,. i/ of a
Voronoi edge as follows. Let E be a Voronoi edge that is a bisector of 2 sites numbered i and j.
Then Adj. . .. (E) = i j We observe (trivially), that Voronoi edges that lie deep inside an
object have higher adjacency than those on the perimeter. Furthermore segments that describe
"global" topological (symmetry) relations are bisectors of high adjacency. This fact gives us a
means of filtering out unimportant segments. We simply discard edges that are of adjacency lower
than some preset threshold. Since the adjacency information is implicitly contained in our Edge
data structure (see Section 2), no additional post-processing is required to obtain this reduced set
We note that the authors of  use a similar (but not identical) technique for pruning the
edges of Voronoi diagrams. The problem in their case was more critical, since they started out
with a set of raster crack end-points along the boundary of an object and hence had an extremely
large number of Voronoi edges to process.
Figure 9 shows the result of the 3 step procedure described above on a planar shape of an
animal-like figure. Figure 10 presents more examples of skeletons derived using our technique for
3.4 Preserving Connectivity
As described in Section 1, one of the advantages of skeletons derived from Voronoi diagrams is
that we are guaranteed connected skeletons. However, what is the effect of the pruning step
on connectivity ? Furthermore, how does one determine an optimal threshold for deleting the
maximum number of redundant skeletal edges without losing connectivity ? Unfortunately, it is
not possible to determine a threshold value a priori and apply it to a large class of objects. However,
by constraining the threshold value to 1 (retaining only those edges that are of adjacency greater
than 1), we can prove that the resultant skeleton remains connected.
Lemma 4 Pruning Voronoi edges of ,Ili,, .. i 1, is guaranteed not to destroy .,,,, I,'.;,'l
Proof: The Voronoi diagram of a polygon is a Planar Straight Line Graph , which by
definition, is connected. For the removal of an edge to result in a disconnected graph, the edge
must be a "bridge", namely the edge must be part of every path between any two vertices of
S .... :- : I
i 1 *1
---i ^ "-
/ -,-- -- .- -------
M / *c/ Al
Figure 10: (a),(c) Voronoi Diagrams, (b), (d) pruned skeletons
the graph. It is easy to see that no edge of adjacency 1 can be a bridge, since (by definition of
adjacency) every edge of adjacency 1 terminates at a vertex of a polygon. Hence removal of all
edges of adjacency 1 is guaranteed to preserve connectivity of the resulting skeleton. *
3.5 Skeletonizing Shapes with Holes
One of the attractive features of our method is that it handles shapes with and without holes in
a uniform manner. Figure 11 shows an example of our approach applied on a holed object. No
additional initialization is required. Note that when carrying out the pruning step, care must be
taken to define the adjacency information correctly, in order that the last numbered site on the
outer boundary and the first numbered site on the next hole are not considered adjacent. Shapes
with multiple holes are handled similarly.
(b) Polygonal Approximation
(c) Voronoi Diagram
(e) Shapes with multiple holes
(d) Pruned Skeleton
(f) Skeleton of a Key
Figure 11: Skeletons of Shapes with holes
(a) Planar Shape
Figure 12: (a,b): Very small edges cause noise spurs. (c,d): Smoothing contour eliminates noise
3.6 Performance Evaluation
In this section, we briefly look at the time complexity of the entire skeletonization process. In the
discussion that follows, let N denote the size of a square image, (N = M M), where M is the
length of each row and column. Let B represent the average size of the bounding contour of each
planar shape. In Section 2, we saw that the time complexity of the Voronoi diagram algorithm is
O(B2), where B is the number of sites on the bounding contour. Other skeletonization algorithms
have time complexities that are a function of N, and hence valid comparisons are difficult to make.
In practice, we have observed that in spite of the quadratic complexity, the algorithm is efficient in
practice, since the number of boundary points B, is generally an order of magnitude less than N.
However, in computing the time for the skeletonization process, the preprocessing steps must also
be taken into account. The table below summarizes both the theoretical time complexity of each
stage, as well as the actual time taken on a Spare 10 computer to compute the skeleton of character
shapes. The timing measurements are reported for each character of size 64x64, averaged over a
total of over 1350 character images.
Time Complexity Actual Running Time
Segmentation O(N log N) 2.26 sec
Polygonization O(B) 0.10 sec
Voronoi Skeleton O(B2) 0.81 sec
Table 1: Performance Evaluation: Running times reported per 64x64 character image.
In this section we show that Voronoi skeletons computed by the procedure described above, provide
a representation superior to existing skeletonization algorithms.
Our approach exploits the fact that the medial-axis of a polygonal shape is implicitly contained
in its Voronoi diagram. This fact immediately ensures (a) that the computed skeleton lies in
,R2, (Euclidean metrics) and (b) conne. /.'..'l,/ is guaranteed. We compute the exact medial axis
as opposed to a discrete approximation. This is a major advantage over other skeletonization
Skeletons computed by thinning algorithms are constrained by the 4 or 8 connectivity of the
discrete grid in which the object shapes are embedded . The typical drawback of such approaches
is therefore the loss of Euclidean metrics. Furthermore thinning algorithms also have to deal with
redundant edges as a result of noise artefacts on the boundary of object shapes.
An alternative approach to skeletonization involves ridge following techniques based on distance
maps computed from object shapes. The quality of the resulting skeletons is critically dependent on
the metric used to derive the distance map. Non-Euclidean metrics (city-block distance, chessboard
distance among others), lead to simple skeletonization algorithms, but lead to an inaccuracy of
upto 411' with respect to Euclidean distances . While methods to compute Euclidean  or
quasi-Euclidean  distance maps exist, these methods do not guarantee connectivity. Gaps occur
due to the discrete domain in which objects are embedded, and need to be filled in postprocessing
More recently, new skeletonization algorithms  and  that are improvements over the
traditional techniques described above have appeared in the literature. In the sequel, we briefly
describe their methods, and compare them with our approach.
In , the authors compute the Voronoi diagram of the set of points along the boundary of an
object shape. Two points arise with respect to the general scope of this technique. (a) A very large
number of points are required to correctly approximate object shapes; this is not very efficient.
Further the large number of points lead to an extremely large number of redundant Voronoi edges,
necessitating the use of complex pruning techniques. (b) A more critical drawback of this approach
is that it is not easily applicable to objects with holes. In particular, it is not possible to decide
a priori, the number of sampled points on an object, necessary to ensure that the Voronoi edges
between the inner and outer boundaries will be computed.
Our approach on the other hand, overcomes both these deficiencies. The number of redundant
edges are small as compared to . Thus a simple pruning step, that involves no postprocessing
suffices to rid us of almost all spurious edges. In addition, by controlling the polygonal approx-
imation process to eliminate edges of very small length on the contour, we can eliminate the
occurrence of those redundant edges that might not be deleted by the pruning step. Figures 8a,b,
show examples where the polygonal approximations of the character shapes contain very small
length edges that result in redundant edges that are not deleted by the pruning step. By ensuring
that the polygonal approximation will not contain very small length edges these spurs can be
eliminated. (Figures 12c and d).
Furthermore, polygons with and without holes are handled in a uniform manner. Polygons are
defined in terms of line segments, and are therefore well defined at every point p(x, y) e 7R2 along
the boundary. This overcomes the drawbacks of discretizing the bounding contour as in .
The authors of  employ the snake model (an active contour model), to compute skeletons. In
their technique, initial control points are defined for the snake at curvature extrema of a shape's
bounding contour. The ~ia,,.ii;'-. grassfire is then simulated by the snake propogation. This
technique maintains correct Euclidean techniques by computing the Euclidean distance map, while
the nature of the contour model ensures that connectivity is maintained. One limitation of this
approach is the problem of computing the correct curvature in the discrete domain. Furthermore, a
very 1.,i--. d boundary implies a large number of curvature extrema leading to redundant skeleton
edges; in this case other criterion need to be applied to reduce the number of initial control
points. In addition, a special case arises when the bounding contour includes a circular arc whose
center (a) lies within the object and (b) is an end-point of a skeleton branch. In such a case,
additional control points need to be defined to ensure accurate skeleton computation. In contrast,
our technique offers a elegant and uniform approach to skeletonization that is independent of the
shapes 'I/,.,,,i' 1..
Another advantage offered by our method, is that a graph representation of the skeleton is
.',,,, 1. ',/,'I lil available. Recall that the Voronoi diagram of a polygon is a planar straight line graph,
and that by Lemma 4, the pruning step maintains connectivity. Skeletonization methods that
compute the skeleton as a pixel map (as against an edge map that our method provides), require
an intermediate vectorization step before a graph representation may be obtained. Vectorization of
the skeleton is an essential step before the skeleton can be used as a higher level of representation.
In the context of recognition systems, our technique thus is amenable to the simple extraction of
structural features such as end-points and junctions by a traversal of the graph comprising the
In summary, Voronoi skeletons are powerful shape descriptors which overcome several disad-
vantages of existing techniques.
In this paper we have presented a new algorithm for Voronoi diagram construction of a polygon
with holes. The algorithm employs an elegant formulation which handles point and line sites
uniformly. The time complexity of the algorithm is O(n') where np is the number of sites in the
input. The incremental nature of the algorithm allows us to handle standard degenerate cases;
no assumption need be made about points in general position. We believe that ours is the first
robust and ...ii to implement algorithm for this problem. This allows for its wide applicability
across various domains. We demonstrate its use in deriving efficient shape representation schemes.
Other applications include mesh generation .
Voronoi skeletons derived from Voronoi Diagrams of polygons gives us an efficient and compact
shape representation scheme. The skeletons are accurate, and are characterized by Euclidean
metrics and the preservation of connectivity. We overcome the disadvantages of Voronoi skeletons
in particular and the skeletonization approach in general, with the help of pruning methods. The
scheme allows us to represent a wide array of shapes including objects with holes. The resulting
representations are largely invariant to noisy detail on the object boundary and hence are amenable
to higher order tasks such as recognition.
Our future research goals are twofold. The current Voronoi diagram algorithm uses a brute
force method to determine new Voronoi edges (by searching every possible site in the polygon).
This allows for easy implementation and robustness, and enables us to handle degeneracies in a
straightforward manner. However this is at the expense of time complexity. It is possible to define
heuristics that allows us to prune the search space, and hence allow for faster convergence; this is
one current area of focus.
We have presented several examples in this paper to demonstrate the usefulness of our shape
representation framework. In particular, we have found it to be a stable representation scheme for
handprinted characters. A future goal is to employ this representation in recognition applications.
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