US spends $11M to kick-start video search technology

DARPA wants to be about to scan through thousands of hours of video in minutes

The US military is inundated with video from airborne unmanned aircraft, remote monitoring systems and security outposts. In an effort to speed up the processing and analyzing  of all this video, researchers at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) this week awarded an almost $11 million contract to open source software vendor Kitware to help develop what DARPA calls its Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool (VIRAT) program.

According to DARPA, the software tools developed under VIRAT will radically improve the analysis of huge volumes of video data by: alerting operators when specific events or activities occur at specific locations or over a range of locations and; enabling fast, content-based searches of existing video archives. DARPA said it is looking for innovative algorithms for activity representation, matching and recognition which can support both indexing and retrieval.

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The ability to quickly search large volumes of existing video data and monitor real-time video data for specific activities or events will provide a dramatic new capability to the US military and intelligence agencies. Currently, video analysis for unmanned Predator and other aerial video surveillance platforms is very labor intensive, and limited to metadata queries, manual annotations, and "fastforward" examination of clips, DARPA stated.    

Current search and retrieval methods must rely upon time and location data associated with the video, and any sparse annotations that might have been made during previous viewings. The videos must be manually reviewed, using normal fast forward and reverse controls, to try and find the activities and objects of interest. This process is so laborious and tools non-existent that very few archived videos are ever reviewed. Video libraries are currently being built to store and give worldwide access to the video and motion imagery data being captured today, DARPA stated.

 At the same time, the dynamics of an urban insurgency have resulted in a rapid increase in the number of activities visible in the video field of view. For current operations, the solution has been to assign more analysts to watch the same real-time video stream simultaneously. Each analyst is assigned a separate portion of the video and is given a list of activities and objects to be on the watch for. If any of the given activities or objects are spotted, the analyst issues an alert to the proper authorities. However, video or motion imagery analysts are a scarce resource within the military and intelligence communities, DARPA stated.

The the goal of VIRAT ultimately is to be able to search in minutes across a video repository containing thousands of hours of video data. The probability of detection must be high to ensure that all potential matches to activities of interest are found. Minimizing false alarms is also important, but can be mitigated by using relevance ranking techniques similar to online text searches, DARPA stated.

Kitware and others have gotten DARPA money in the past to do preliminary work on the system. The current w is expected to be completed by February 2012. 

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