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DARPA's video search push gets another $11m

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Pentagon R&D chiefs at DARPA have awarded $11m to discover a technical secret for which, one may be sure, Google executives would pay a substantially larger sum - that of true video search.

Google would like to make video searching work as well as text searching does, the better to serve ads alongside the ensuing results and as a way of making its huge pile of video gumble at YouTube more useful and hence more valuable. But the problems of sifting the odd decent/useful vid out from among endless footage of comical cats, doleful teenagers in their bedrooms etc are as nothing compared to those of the US Defense Department.

The US military (and intelligence community) have been generating video archives over the past decade which make YouTube look like a home video collection. Mere HD movies and TV are small and tightly compressed compared to the high resolution, full-motion imagery which pours in such mighty streams from every Predator or Reaper roboplane: and dozens of these are airborne above southwest Asia every minute of every day.

Often, all these mountains of super-quality video (often featuring mountains, appropriately enough) are seen just once, briefly, by the pilot and sensor operator handling a given drone via satcomms from Nevada. In future, as the machines become more automated, large amounts of perhaps useful video will never be seen by human eyes at all: there is simply too much to assign intelligence analysts to watch it all in the hope of catching something significant.

DARPA says:

Currently, video analysis for Predator and other aerial video surveillance platforms is very labor intensive, and limited to metadata queries, manual annotations, and “fastforward” examination of clips.

Or in other words the US military has bitten off more video than it can chew here. DARPA's solution, of course, is basically to invent a tremendous, powerful pair of robotic chewing jaws with steely automatic teeth. Rather than VID-CHOMP*, for some reason, DARPA has chosen to dub the project Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool (VIRAT):

The software tools developed under VIRAT will radically improve the analysis of huge volumes of video data by: 1) alerting operators when specific events or activities occur at specific locations or over a range of locations and; 2) enabling fast, content-based searches of existing video archives.

VIRAT has been underway since 2008, and there have been previous awards: but on August 27 the Pentagon notified that New York firm Kitware Inc had received a $10,962,069 add-on to a previous cost-plus deal - indicating that DARPA feel worthwhile progress is being made.

Just as DARPA gave birth to the internet and thus to Google's original business model, so it seems that the military boffins may in time build the search colossus a new one.

Watch this space, etc. ®

*Video Intelligence Data - Computing for Human Observation Minimisation Programme

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