“Minority Report” Scanners Are Coming: Company Snags $15 Million For Long-Range Facial Recognition Tech

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They might not light up our eyes, but long-range facial recognition cameras are sure to light up computer databases with our whereabouts, criminal records, possibly even our shopping tendencies.

Ever heard of a company called Digital Signal Corporation? Neither had I.

Well, remember the movie “Minority Report,” how cameras everywhere would scan Tom Cruise, instantly recognizing him to either welcome him into the shopping mall or send the cops after him? The same sort of facial recognition technology is exactly what Digital Signal Corporation is into–except these guys are for real.

Marketwire recently reported that DSC received $15 million to develop three dimensional long-range biometric facial recognition technology.

Hmm, I wonder what exactly DSC’s technology will be used for? Makes me think of the cameras being mounted on more and more police cars that are able to record virtually every license plate that passes by. Will facial recognition devices be used to keep track of everyone that goes to a baseball game, the supermarket, or a political rally? The DSC website doesn’t offer any information about what their cameras can do. There’s pretty much nothing there except a picture of a guy staring you down like “he knows…HE KNOWS!” In an attempt to get past the guy, I searched for a link, but found none. I eventually saw this: “Our website is currently under construction.”

How convenient.

I did the next best thing and googled the CEO, David Guttadauro. Didn’t find much though, except I noticed he had a Linkedin account. So I checked Linkedin and found DSC. You’re not going to believe this, but across six pages of employees, Guttadauro’s is the only profile with a picture! Wait, it gets spookier. Looking at his profile I saw that he and I are actually 3rd degree contacts!

Like Sebastian in the “Neverending Story” I shut my laptop and uttered to myself, “This is toooo weeeird.”

Digital Signals Corporation: even the name has a seemingly nondescript yet somehow Sci Fi draconian ring to it.

When I opened my laptop back up I finally managed to track down a quote of his on baltimore.citybizlist.com, talking about the need for facial recognition technologies. Referring to an “uncertain world” that is becoming increasingly interconnected, Guttadauro points out the ever-increasing need to identify terrorists, track down shoplifters, or members of an organized crime family. He also points out the need to recognize customers, friendly soldiers, and frequent travelers.

Another glimpse into the inner workings of this mystifying company comes from Bloomberg Businessweek’s company overview, which says that “Digital Signal Corporation engages in the research and development of three-dimensional facial recognition systems for the department of defense and other federal agencies.”

Well now, that’s interesting. And that may explain in part why information on the technologies DSC is developing is so hard to find. I’d like to know why exactly they got the $15 million. There are a lot of companies out there developing their own facial recognition technologies. Why did Columbia Capital, City Light Capital, SilverHaze Partners, Novak Biddle Venture Partners and Paladin Capital Group all go in big for DSC? Must be something pretty cool.

At any rate, facial recognition technology is something cool. The first step in 2D face recognition, which compares the faces in pictures, is to find the faces–that is, to differentiate between a face and background patterns. Once a face is acquired, different features of the face are measured including distance between the eyes, width of the nose, and the length of the jaw line. These measurements are then transformed into a numerical code, called a faceprint, which is stored in the database.

It’s tricky though. Early 2D recognition software required a straight-on image of a photograph, and any variation in light or angle would greatly affect accuracy.

Three-dimensional face recognition was developed in an attempt to improve accuracy. It measures curves on the face at a high-resolution, sub-millimeter scale. In 3D recognition, the curve measurements provide the template.

The hope is that the 3D data will ultimately be used to identify criminals, terrorists, and people in the crowd who are late on their taxes (just kidding about that last group, I think). But police departments don’t have 3D images, they have mugshots. It’s tricky business to match a 3D face to a 2D face because of the different types of measurements that went into creating the respective templates. Algorithms are currently being developed that will allow accurate comparisons between the 2D and 3D templates.

What DSC is developing–biometric facial recognition–is the newest generation of facial recognition technology. Rather than measure distances between the eyes and other nodes, this technology measures unique skin features. A picture is taken here too, but not of the entire face, only a patch of skin. This skinprint is then analyzed by a process called Surface Texture Analysis that parses up the skinprint into smaller sections and records lines, pores and skin texture. The software is so accurate it can differentiate between identical twins.

It may surprise you to find out that facial recognition cameras are already in use. A company in Japan actually put the things in sidewalk billboards. When a pedestrian walks by, the camera scans their face, takes its best guess as to the sex and age of the person, and changes the advertisement on the billboard to target the person’s demographic!

Remember that scene in “Minority Report” when Cruise enters the shopping mall: “Welcome back, Mr. Yamamoto. Would you be interested in trying out our new chinos?”

If privacy advocate groups like the ACLU had a problem with scanning license plates, they’re going to go berserk at the idea of automated, long-range face scanning. But, as I’m sure automated license plate recognition cameras for the police will soon be everywhere, facial recognition cameras will soon be too. Companies like Digital Signal Corporation are working hard to make sure we are watched, even if, despite our best efforts, we can’t watch them.

[image credits: rubinium.org and Digital Signal Corporation]
image 1: Minority Report
image 2: Creepy Guy

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