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We study the problem of detecting objects in still, gray-scale images. Our primary focus is the development of a learning-based approach to the problem that makes use of a sparse, part-based representation. A vocabulary of distinctive object parts is automatically constructed from a set of sample images of the object class of interest; images are then represented using parts from this vocabulary, together with spatial relations observed among the parts. Based on this representation, a learning algorithm is used to automatically learn to detect instances of the object class in new images. The approach can be applied to any object with distinguishable parts in a relatively fixed spatial configuration; it is evaluated here on difficult sets of real-world images containing side views of cars, and is seen to successfully detect objects in varying conditions amidst background clutter and mild occlusion. In evaluating object detection approaches, several important methodological issues arise that have not been satisfactorily addressed in the previous work. A secondary focus of this paper is to highlight these issues, and to develop rigorous evaluation standards for the object detection problem. A critical evaluation of our approach under the proposed standards is presented.