DARPA says surveillance vid-search tool is ready for use
To roll out across 'multiple military programmes'
US military warboffins claim that they have found one of the internet's holiest grails – that of true, tagless searchable-video technology.
For most of us, searching a video archive is a chancy matter. The perfect piece of footage we want to see may well be in there, but the only chance of finding it is usually that a person has already seen it and attached suitable text for a search engine to index and find for us.
This is a particularly major snag for the US military and intelligence communities, whose fleets of drone aircraft, aerostat balloons, satellites etc produce a flood of full-motion surveillance video which is usually seen once by a human being at best – often not at all – before pouring away into the secret archives.
Hence the war-boffins of DARPA naturally sought to develop wonder-software which could work with the actual video itself and highlight "specific events or activities at specific locations or over a range of locations" or carry out "fast, content-based searches of existing video archives".
As with most DARPA projects, chances of success seemed slim; most of the agency's efforts achieve no success (or unexpected successes largely irrelevant to the original goal), as DARPA is specifically tasked with high-risk research.
However the Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool (VIRAT) effort seems to have actually worked – at least to some degree, anyway. We learn from a mandatory federal contract announcement issued yesterday that success is within reach and that VIRAT will now be deployed into various operational military-intelligence video archives and systems:
This sole source contract is for the integration of software code into multiple programs of record for full motion video (FMV) exploitation for the Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool (VIRAT). This third phase of the VIRAT program will demonstrate rapid refinement of query results and the capability to accommodate complex searches that include multiple, dynamic events within a single query ...
The job will be done by US defence megacorp Lockheed for an unspecified sum.
Just how well VIRAT actually works probably won't become public knowledge anytime soon: but the mere knowledge that it exists and works to a useful degree will no doubt cause some excitement at the major search providers.
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 – or its rivals – a new one. ®
A plausuble source
VIRAT will be a plausible source for much intelligence that really came from other sources that should not be compromised. It will work like this:
1. get intelligence from operative or cracked encryption
2. find a reason to fly a drone or "to have" had a statellite looking in the right place
3. pretend that VIRAT found the intelligence for you.
4. act on intelligence and hope the real source isn't suspected by anyone
Maybe scanning the video is not the problem
As others commented the ability to scan videos exists (your mileage will vary). So maybe part of this tool is an ability to take an instruction.
Some of the contract information refers to improving the query aspect. How do you describe to software the thing you want it to find?
If you've ever tried finding a music track by humming a few notes you'll know how difficult it is. We're OK at translating verbal instructions to, say, find something but far from perfect.
Which begs the possibility...