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3/9/2005
01:55 PM
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Tech Development Based On Red, White, And Blue, Not Just Green

Over the past 58 years of its existence, the Central Intelligence Agency's information-gathering needs have played a role in the development of some significant technology, including the U-2 and SR71 spy aircraft, Corona surveillance satellites, and even the Internet. Despite what promises to be some ego-bruising restructuring within the U.S. intelligence community to accommodate the new National Intelligence Authority, the agency has its sights set on a number of emerging technologies it hopes

Over the past 58 years of its existence, the Central Intelligence Agency's information-gathering needs have played a role in the development of some significant technology, including the U-2 and SR71 spy aircraft, Corona surveillance satellites, and even the Internet. Despite what promises to be some ego-bruising restructuring within the U.S. intelligence community to accommodate the new National Intelligence Authority, the agency has its sights set on a number of emerging technologies it hopes will take its intelligence gathering and analysis to new levels. Based upon the CIA's solid technology track record, the business world should take note.In-Q-Tel, a CIA-backed venture group, earlier this week announced a development and investment agreement with A4Vision Inc. to advance that company's 3-D facial-scanning and -recognition software and equipment. A4Vision will work with In-Q-Tel to develop technology that will benefit the CIA as well as the broader technology market, says A4Vision CEO Grant Evans. The outcome of the joint development is expected to result in lower biometric device manufacturing costs, the miniaturization of biometrics cameras, and improved product performance, he adds.

The mission of In-Q-Tel, which launched in 1999 after a decade when technology innovators were more interested in the green of Silicon Valley than the red, white, and blue of Washington, D.C., is to foster the development of new and emerging information technologies and pursue research and development that produce solutions to some of the most difficult IT problems facing the CIA. It was a classic case of, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In-Q-Tel set up offices in Washington, D.C., and Menlo Park, Calif. The CIA decided early on that In-Q-Tel would work on unclassified IT projects for the agency. Meanwhile, to attract the interests of the private sector, In-Q-Tel principally invested in technologies where there was both an agency need and private-sector interest.

A4Vision's success in developing 3-D facial-recognition technology moves the company forward while benefiting the intelligence community, says In-Q-Tel principal Lisa Rutherford. "In-Q-Tel sees the application of that technology beyond the facial-recognition market," she adds.

Indeed, In-Q-Tel has an interest in different ways three-dimensional images can be digitized and mined for intelligence purposes. "We live in a world that has more than two dimensions," Rutherford notes.

In February, In-Q-Tel signed a research agreement with Arizona State University's Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling to support the development of the school's 3-D handwriting-recognition and document-segmentation technology. The success of this work could provide the intelligence community with greater access to software that recognizes and automatically separates mixed graphical, print, and handwritten content for search, retrieval, and cataloging.

What separates In-Q-Tel apart from other Silicon Valley VCs is its ability to introduce new technology directly into its intelligence-community user base. In-Q-Tel is a private company working exclusively for the CIA and the intelligence community, although it is not part of the CIA, nor is it a government agency.

What's your stance on government-funded IT development and its applicability to the business world? Are 3-D technologies relevant to your industry?

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