DHS to the bad guys: Smile for the camera

The Homeland Security Department has invited proposals for new software that would take a Candid Camera approach to identifying criminal and terrorist activity.

The department's Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency plans to spend $5 million on two programs for automated scene understanding.

Scene-understanding technology detects telltale signs of crime or terrorism, reducing the burden on personnel assigned to monitor closed-circuit TV cameras and other sensors in places such as airports, seaports and border crossings.

Building on DOD work

According to its project documents, HSARPA wants to exploit advances in scene understanding funded by the Defense Department as part of its drive for battle awareness by:
  • Helping law enforcement officers use an increasing array of sensors, including TV, radar and seismic systems, to recognize unusual, criminal or terrorist activity

  • Reducing the cost of security networks at critical infrastructure sites such as bridges and power plants, as well as other likely terrorist targets such as ports and airports

  • Promoting development of commercial monitoring systems that use innovative designs and new algorithms for scene-understanding technology.

HSARPA wants systems that can cull from thousands of images and other data the few items of interest that will alert security workers to suspicious activity. The agency has specified that the architecture of the scene-understanding systems must be open, modular, scalable and evolutionary.

The agency will award research grants worth up to $3 million in all this year.

HSARPA also wants to enhance an existing maritime surveillance project with the new technology. The Coast Guard already operates a Port and Coastal Surveillance Testbed known as Project Hawkeye in South Florida that integrates data from coastal radars, visual and infrared cameras, and vessel identification systems.

The DHS R&D arm plans to spend $2 million this year to include scene-understanding technology in the Hawkeye project.


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