Army MPs go biometric

Objective Force Warrior

Army military police officers have successfully tested mobile facial-recognition technology to aid them in their duties and may ultimately incorporate language translation capabilities for use in Defense Department peacekeeping initiatives, the Army announced last week.

The technology is part of the Army's Digital Military Police program, which 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 Engineering Corp. Last month, the company awarded Visionics Corp. a $100,000 subcontract for the use of Visionics' FaceIt product, which gives military police a hands-free facial surveillance capability.

The Visionics award starts the second phase of the pilot project and follows field trials by military police at Fort Polk, La., that tested the facial-recognition technology for checkpoint operations.

Joseph Atick, chairman and chief executive officer of Visionics, said the second phase would focus on "scalability" and would ensure that the software works on the Army's massive platform.

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.

"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."

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

The Army's development of this mobile facial-recognition system — a four-year, $12 million effort — has faced many challenges, including failed display technologies, cameras that were awkward to use and little progress in the commercial wearable computer industry, Chandler said. But the MicroOptical system outfitted with the FaceIt software works well, Chandler added.

Current funding for the system has run out but the Army would like to integrate it with other technologies and will lend it to the Navy for access control to flight lines, he said.

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

"That language-translation piece could be huge," Chandler said, adding that even if the translator could perform basic functions such as 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.


How it Works

Facial recognition

Visionics Corp.'s FaceIt software is integrated with MicroOptical Engineering Corp.'s wearable camera and display device. Here's how the facial-recognition component works:

* The integrated FaceIt tool automatically captures the image of an individual within the officer's field of view and performs 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.


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