Digital MP adds facial recognition

Objective Force Warrior

The Army announced this week that its military police officers have successfully tested facial-recognition technology to aid them in their duties, and the same system ultimately could include language translation capabilities for use in Defense Department peacekeeping initiatives.

MicroOptical Engineering Corp. awarded Visionics Corp. a $100,000 subcontract for the use of Visionics' FaceIt product in a mobile security system that is part of the Army's Digital Military Police program. The award follows field trials by military police at Fort Polk, La., that tested the facial-recognition technology for checkpoint operations.

The Army Digital MP program promotes the development of systems that enable the military police to better perform their jobs.

The cornerstone of the mobile security system is an eyeglass-mounted wearable camera and display device designed and made by MicroOptical, which awarded the subcontract to Visionics Feb. 11.

The new mobile system enables military police officers to focus on "peacekeeping and peace enforcement," as opposed to traditional warfighting, said Mark Chandler, a physical scientist at the Army's Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass.

Joseph Atick, chairman and chief executive officer of Visionics, said this award signified the second phase of the pilot project - following the Fort Polk test - and will focus on "scalability" and making sure the software works on the Army's massive platform.

"It's not about buying licenses and doing deployment because it's not clear yet when they'll be deploying in large numbers," Atick said. "This will allow them to implement our technology into the mobile platform that the Army wants to standardize on."

The integrated FaceIt component will enable military police to perform hands-free facial surveillance, automatically capturing the image of an individual within their field of view and performing a "one-to-many" match against a database of known friends and enemies. When a match is made, the officer receives confirmation of the individual's status on the display screen and can decide if further action is necessary, Atick said.

"The officers don't have to aim the camera," Chandler said. "The computer grabs the face and does the search automatically. That keeps the officers' attention on the subject instead of having to take a picture, and that's a big plus."

The Army's development of this mobile facial recognition system has been a four-year, $12 million effort with many bumps along the way, including failed display technologies, cameras that were awkward for officers to use, and the lack of an evolution in the commercial wearable computer industry, Chandler said. But the MicroOptical system outfitted with the FaceIt software has produced a successful solution, he said.

Visionics will complete delivery of its technology to the Army by the end of this month, Atick said.

Despite the development of a solid system, funding for it has run out. It is being included as "unfunded requirement" in the fiscal 2004 budget, but that brings no guarantees, Chandler said.

However, the system shouldn't die on the vine because the Army would like to integrate it with other technologies and the Navy is interested in it for access control to flight lines, he said.

Chandler said he envisions a system that ultimately combines facial recognition and language translation tools for peace enforcement initiatives.

"That language translation piece could be huge," he said, adding that even if the translator could perform basic functions like telling people in their own language not to come any closer to a U.S. ship in a foreign port, the benefits would be sizable.

"For facial recognition and language translation, you need lots of computing power for that…but I think it would be a 'killer app' for wearable computers in peacekeeping efforts," Chandler said.

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