Stealthy object detection and recognition

Device based on photometric techniques could help troops find hidden guns or explosives.

The Machine Vision Laboratory at the University of West England (UWE; Bristol, UK; www.uwe.ac.uk) has developed a portable device to automatically detect and recognize potential threats to troops in war zones. The device has been recognized by the UK Ministry of Defence Competition of Ideas scheme. The successful idea has won funding to be developed into a prototype in conjunction with partners SEA (Group) Ltd. The idea put forward by the UWE team of machine-vision experts, led by Prof. Melvyn Smith, could help soldiers detect camouflaged objects or people and could enhance and recognize the shapes of 3-D objects such as guns or explosives hidden under clothing.

The system, based on photometric stereo techniques, reveals and enhances subtle shapes and surface details that may not be apparent or are deliberately concealed. Photometric stereo produces a composite image using light from at least three sources linked to a computer to derive detailed information about an object's surface.

Technical director of the SEA Defence Division, Peter Cooper, said, "Different configurations of the portable device could be used in different task scenarios; for example, a compact wearable version could be developed for work at close range or a portable system for operation by several personnel over greater distances in the field. We look forward to working with UWE on this challenging project."

The Ministry of Defence received 467 entries for its Competition of Ideas, more than half of which came from universities and small or medium enterprises. Sixty-six of the proposals were successful, and of these 22 contracts were awarded to universities. In all, these projects represent an investment of about £11 million for new ideas to enhance UK defense technology strategy.

As a demonstration of the technique, consider an airplane placed on a planar surface with 2-D images of the plane (see photo). When viewed from above, it is difficult to identify the real camouflaged object from the background. Photometric stereo however, reveals the 3-D structure of the scene, thus highlighting the real object.

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