Facial Recognition Research Advances with Recent Grant

Five years ago, UNCW researchers began studying the effects of human aging on facial recognition systems for national security agencies like NSA and the CIA. They are able to further their work this year after receiving a $334,930 grant from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Under the grant, UNCW computer scientists are working with scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, Clemson University and North Carolina A&T University to establish a Center for Academic Studies in Identity Sciences (CASIS). The center’s goal is to develop computer models that would allow camera surveillance systems to identify a person by his or her facial and eye-region structure, regardless of aging that may have occurred.

The models could be used in many ways, from combating terrorism to looking for patterns in age, ethnicity or gender of mall shoppers. The models would make use of a facial database developed in part by UNCW students four years ago, in which they data-mined the web for images of people that were identified by age. Their work resulted in the largest longitudinal face database in the world, said Karl Ricanek, assistant professor of computer science and principle investigator of UNCW’s portion of the grant.

Prior to creating the database, anthropology professor Midori Albert and her students kicked off UNCW’s research by examining hundreds of articles on the study of how the face ages.Although volumes of medical and forensic literature existed, a holistic document on research in the field was not available. Albert’s findings were used to create the facial database and to draft a scientific model for projecting a person’s age in 10, 20, or 30 years. Since then, UNCW scientists have continued to collect data and refine that model, of which there have been three versions so far.

Most recently, researchers have focused on eye (iris) recognition. Junior computer science major Phillip Whisenhunt recently published a paper on iris recognition. His research in the field also earned him an internship with NSA which, following screening, he will begin this summer.

Increasing the number of advanced degrees, or students working in biometrics, is another goal of CASIS, Ricanek said. Biometrics refers to the measurement of physical characteristics (such as fingerprints, DNA, or retinal patterns) for use in verifying the identity of individuals.

UNCW’s portion of the ODNI grant allows for the funding of three graduate and three undergraduate research positions in the field. The research is likely to be funded five years at a cost of $2 million, but ODNI has the option to re-distribute or withhold funds after evaluating progress made in the first year.


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