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Next-gen binoculars can help ID suspects

Mar. 9, 2013 - 02:32PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 9, 2013 - 02:32PM  |  
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Range in meters at which the binoculars could make a positive ID.

The Navy hopes to equip sailors with binoculars that can ID potential bad guys from up to 200 meters away.

The high-tech eye gear, to be used at home and abroad, would work in tandem with a database of images that could help ID targets or suspected terrorists.

The technology is under consideration for deployed Navy SEALs, but also force-protection personnel back home, whose job it is to protect Navy bases from terrorist threats, said Tommy Groves, a spokesman at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, where the project is underway.

The system would work like so: The binoculars would scan an individual's face and that data would be transferred through a wireless network to a laptop with the photo database. This database could be tailored for the mission or draw from an existing database, Groves said.

Most facial recognition systems today look just like a consumer digital camera with a very long telephoto lens. But this Navy project will be much smaller, about the size of a standard pair of binoculars, Groves said.

One drawback: The system would be limited to daytime use. Groves said a night-vision capability could be included later.

This technology not only allows for easier IDing of targets, but it also increases safety. Groves said it would allow operators to keep their distance from an individual who may pose a threat.

It is unknown when the binoculars will reach the field, Groves said. Pilot studies will come first.

Because the product is in early research and development, Groves could not estimate how many sets the Navy might acquire.

SPAWAR had not yet awarded the contract, Groves said. But the Navy is expected to choose StereoVision Imaging, based on a no-bid contract posted online Jan. 16.

A representative from the company declined comment because no contract had been awarded.

Though StereoVision does make facial recognition binoculars for law enforcement, the Navy project hopes to double the distance from which faces can be scanned.

A facial recognition expert not associated with the project told Navy Times that industry has struggled with technology that can accurately ID someone who isn't looking directly at the camera; is in motion; or is improperly lit.

It's incredibly useful when the target is holding still, explained Anil Jain, a professor in the department of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University, who was recommended by the Navy as an impartial facial recognition expert.

Groves said Jain's criticism was not an issue: "The facial recognition technology has matured to where most of the challenges he details have already been addressed."

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