mcall.com - Lehigh professor's insight could give military new vision
|From The Morning Call
-- August 2, 2003
Lehigh professor's insight could give military new
Computer system may help detect
suicide bombers, hidden guns.
Of The Morning
The next high-tech tool that could prevent terrorism, and the
brains behind it, reside in a nondescript laboratory at Lehigh
The equipment looks innocuous ！ two cameras connected
to a computer.
But thanks to the mathematical equations of university
professor Rick Blum, the system can do something even Superman can't ！
project pictures to law enforcement or military personnel that show
weapons hidden behind walls or concealed on humans under clothing.
Blum's ingenuity could have far-reaching benefits for law
enforcement officials and the U.S. military, which is underwriting the
project. It could help them identify from a distance potential attackers
such as armed suspects or suicide bombers.
application of detecting concealed weapons is one that would be highly
useful for our forces in Iraq today,'' said Bill Sander, associate
director of computing and information science for the Army Research Office
in Durham, N.C. ''To be able to tell whether approaching Iraqi people are
carrying concealed weapons or explosives could save the lives of
The key to the system rests in intricate software
developed around a series of complicated algorithms created by Blum, whom
the military sought for his expertise in image fusion.
43-year-old Quakertown man started working on the project eight years ago
after learning about cameras using millimeter-wave sensors. The sensors
emit high-frequency radio waves that penetrate walls and apparel to detect
metal objects such as weapons. The cameras then show images of the weapons
that look similar to X-rays.
The problem with the images is that
they show humans as essentially black-and-white skeletal frames. Military
and law enforcement officials complained that didn't work for their
purposes. They wanted to see human features and clothing ！ items that
could help them quickly identify suspects in a crowd.
digital camera shows those details but doesn't show hidden
So Blum began searching for a way to marry the two
He found the answer in math.
The pictures taken by
millimeter-wave cameras and digital cameras consist of pixels represented
by different voltage levels. When connected to a computer, the cameras
send signals to the computer with the voltage information for each pixel.
The computer converts the voltages into numbers, through a
software program Blum designed.
The software then runs Blum's
algorithms, which pick out the most important voltage levels from each
picture, and put them together to generate a new picture.
words, the algorithms take the images of metal objects, which appear in
the millimeter-wave pictures, and the detailed images of humans, which
appear in digital pictures, and merge them into one
''It's a lot of number crunching,'' said Blum, who came
to Lehigh in 1991. In 2001, he received an Army grant of approximately
$300,000 to fund his work and over the years he, with the help of graduate
students, fine-tuned the algorithms to run more efficiently and create
pictures in full color. Today, his algorithms are considered among the
best in image fusion.
''Because of his track record, he
demonstrated to us that he had the knowledge and ability to uncover new
ideas in this regime and try to find new algorithms that hadn't been
developed,'' said Sander, who helped make the decision to award Blum the
federal grant and is his project manager.
Sander said Blum's image
fusion algorithms are considered among the best because of the way they
align points from the different images and incorporate
Before the military and law enforcement start using the
system, some glitches ！ namely cost ！ must be worked out.
millimeter-wave cameras, based on millimeter-wave radar developed by the
military, are extraordinarily expensive and make the system too
''It's going to take somebody to spend some money to make a
millimeter-wave sensor inexpensive and then have it mass produced to bring
the price down,'' Blum said.
The system would also need to be
lightweight and portable for police and soldiers on the move. Such a
system will require shorter, faster algorithms, something Blum is already
working on for a similar system that connects night vision and digital
Sander said it would take at least a year to create a
prototype unit for the millimeter-wave and digital fusion system and
longer to begin production and deployment. The Army has no current plans
to begin such a costly production, he said, adding that the ideal
situation would be for a commercial industry to develop and mass produce
Lehigh University officials have not decided whether to
patent the project, but Blum is writing what is expected to be the first
published book on the topic.
Copyright © 2003, The Morning Call