Darpa’s Beady-Eyed Camera Spots the ‘Non-Cooperative’
Soon, keeping your head down won’t be enough to stump high-tech security cameras, thanks to Pentagon-funded researchers developing mini-cameras that can nab threats by hunting down — and scanning — their eyeballs.
A team of electrical engineers at Southern Methodist University (SMU), led by Professor Marc Christensen, first created the cameras with funding from Darpa, the Pentagon’s research agency. Called Panoptes, the devices use low-resolution sensors to create a high-res image that can be captured using a lightweight, ultra-slim camera. Because they don’t use a lens, the cameras were originally designed for miniature drone sensors and troop helmet-cams.
Only a year later, the Pentagon is giving SMU another $1.6 million, to merge the cameras with active illumination and handheld Pico projection devices. This allows photos captured on small devices to be transformed for large-format viewing. Whereas the first goal of the program was to create slim cameras with the power of a lens, the latest technology “lets us do even more than what a lens could do,” Christensen told Danger Room.
“This platform is really just the base, upon which we’ll focus on different applications,” Christensen said. “Now, we’re enhancing resolution even more, so the images are a 3-D map with even better, more accurate details.”
The new devices will yield a robust 3-D image that’ll be useful for seeing in caves and dark urban areas, and for the creation of versatile “non-cooperative” iris-detection security cameras.
Smart-Iris, the name of the new Panoptes innovation, is being developed in conjunction with SMU Professor Delores Etter, who specializes in biometric identification. It’ll eliminate problems like glare, eyelashes, dim lighting — and an unwillingness to stop and stare directly into a dedicated iris-detection camera. Instead, Panoptes devices will zero in on a face, no matter angle or movement, then narrow right into the iris. A long line of people, moving through a line, could be scanned by wall-mounted cameras and they wouldn’t even notice it was happening.
And new algorithms are being developed by Etter and colleagues to identify individuals based on segments of their iris, rather than a full frontal scan.
“Ideally, when you walk down a hallway, no matter where your head is looking, the device can grab your eyeball and detect what it needs to,” Christensen said. And where possible security and defense applications are concerned? “You can let your imagination fly with that one.”
And with this latest development, Christensen also sees widespread civilian application, as part of “the cell phone of the future.” He’d like to see the camera-projection device incorporated into phones, and says they’d be able to photograph the page of a book “down to the smallest lettering,” or detect counterfeit cash by “picking up the texture of a $20 bill.”
Photo: U.S Air Force