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U.S. Pushes For Advances In Facial Recognition

CIA invests in 3-D scanning, but technical hurdles stand in the way of its promise.

The U.S. government is depending on big improvements in biometric technology as part of its homeland-security strategy. One area of biometric-security technology got a lift last week when In-Q-Tel, a CIA-backed venture group, and Motorola Ventures, the venture-capital arm of Motorola Inc., disclosed about $6 million in investments in A4Vision Inc., a provider of 3-D facial-scanning and -recognition software and equipment.

A4Vision will work with In-Q-Tel to develop technology that will benefit the CIA and the broader technology market, A4Vision CEO Grant Evans says. He expects the joint development will result in lower costs for biometric-device manufacturing, smaller biometric cameras, and improved performance.

This 3-D image from A4Vision was generated with its facial-scanning and -recognition software

This 3-D image from A4Vision was generated with its facial-scanning and -recognition software.
Biometrics are poised to play a key role in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which began early last year and calls for using technology to better track foreigners entering and leaving the United States. Biometric technology is used throughout the federal government, including in the Defense Department's Common Access Card identification program and the State Department's Biometrics Logical Access Development and Execution program.

Despite the promise of 3-D facial-recognition software to offer more-accurate results than two dimensions and work where iris or finger scanning is impractical, it still faces a number of hurdles. Three-dimensional technology captures facial images by using a number of digital cameras positioned around the subject's face or by using a structured light grid that captures facial-structure data, approaches that make it impractical for some uses. Casinos, airports, and high-se- curity facilities are likely candidates for facial-recognition technology. "In video-surveillance environments, facial recognition requires very specific lighting and very specific facial poses," says David Fisch, an International Biometric Group consultant. "I'm not sure how ready 3-D is to replace 2-D facial recognition."

There's also a data challenge, since most image files are 2-D, making comparisons difficult. One solution is to try "2.5-D" methods to compare 2-D images in current databases with synthesized 3-D images. In that approach, the hardware used is the same as 2-D, but software upgrades allow for the 3-D modeling, Prianka Chopra, industry manager for AutoID security and smart-card technology with consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, says via E-mail.

The French Civil Aviation Authority believes 3-D biometric technology is nearly ready for its needs. Since the beginning of the year, the Lyon airport has been using A4Vision's 3-D facial-imaging and -recognition systems to create security badges for 500 pilots, mechanics, and other employees with access to the airport's highly secure tarmac. The airport hopes to issue as many as 5,000 badges to its employees by June. Now it's writing specifications to roll out 3-D biometric systems at airports in Bordeaux, Lille, Nice, Paris, and Toulouse.

The Lyon test demonstrated that 3-D biometric technology is reliable, with only a small number of incidents in which the system failed to work as expected. "They're now defining what's needed in a fully deployable system," Evans says. "It's very different when you actually deploy a system for tens of thousands of people to use."

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