Open Source Tool Helps US DoD Eye in the Sky To See

Video and images are reviewed by open source software for threats

The US Department of Defense is awash in digital images and videos taken by a variety of sources including satellites, manned airplanes and unmanned drones. Going through all of that imagery by hand would take untold resources that the DoD just doesn’t have. Instead the DoD has turned to a computer vision program to help sort through the imagery. The programs they use are supplied by Kitware and get ready for this – are open source! That’s right the US Department of Defense is using open source computer vision solutions to help identify potential threats.

Kitware is a company that has been working with DoD and DARPA for many years in refining the software that helps keep us safe. I recently spoke with Dr. Anthony Hoogs, the Director of Computer Vision for Kitware. Dr. Hoogs joined Kitware in 2007 and started their Computer Vision group. They work almost exclusively with the government. Dr. Hoogs is the Principal Investigator on the DARPA VIRAT and PerSEAS projects, with responsibility for overseeing more than twelve universities and nine commercial subcontractors. He has initiated and led multiple additional contracts in video and motion analysis, Predictive Analysis for Naval Deployment Activities (DARPA), Complex Activity Recognition in Video (DARPA) and various SBIR efforts in wide-area video.

Dr. Hoogs and his team are helping to develop the solutions that the DoD and other government agencies are using to identify potential threats and targets from digital imagery we gather. This is a matter of national security of course. While his involvement with Kitware is only since 2007, he has been helping the government with computer vision for many years. Kitware has been supplying open source solutions around digital imaging for much longer. In addition to the US Government work, Kitware also supplies solutions for medical imaging, visualization and 3D modeling.

All of these are very attractive markets and what is great is that Kitware is doing all of this by offering and maintaining open source products. But to me the fact that the Department of Defense would use an open source solution to identify objects in their imagery says a lot about their faith in open source. Dr. Hoogs says that he has not really run into any objections about using open source either. He believes that open source is more secure because it is open.

Let’s be clear though, there are certain parts of the program that DoD uses that is not released as part of the open source package. However, Dr. Hoogs assures me that what is available via open source is indeed very functional. For matters of national security though, some of the most advanced algorithms and so forth are not released as open source. The government and Kitware jointly make the call on what is and what is not open.

Computer vision is in some ways similar to face recognition technology. It is automatically recognizing shapes and features that it is programmed to look for. I also spoke with Rick Avila, the Senior Director of Health Care Solutions at Kitware. This same technology is great in disease recognition and the new field of remote surgery. Again open source is leading the way here.

As an open source advocate hearing Kitware’s success and seeing how they are helping in both areas of national security and pushing the envelope in medical technology is very encouraging. I recorded by conversation with Dr. Hoogs and you can listen to the 12 minutes or so below. He is a fascinating guy and one of the real leaders in the computer vision field. The fact that he is also such a big supporter of open source is even better.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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