video surveillance and

the National Aeronautics and Space Agency

30 August 2003: NASA helps cops catch criminals on Earth with video technology invented by space scientists.

FBI and other law enforcement officers - whose investigations are normally down-to-Earth - recently have been seeking the help of two NASA scientists who study the Sun and storms like hurricanes. Why are specialists from such different worlds working together? The NASA researchers -- using their expertise and equipment for analyzing satellite video -- created technology that can dramatically improve TV images including crime scene videos. With law enforcement officers looking over their shoulders, the scientists use their computer software to turn dark, jittery images captured by home video, security systems and video cameras in police cars into clearer, stable images that reveal clues about crimes.

In the last year, Dr. David Hathaway and Paul Meyer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have worked on about a dozen criminal cases with the police and FBI. Hathaway, a solar physicist, is usually busy studying images of violent explosions on the Sun, and Meyer, an atmospheric scientist, examines hazardous weather conditions on Earth. The scientists' foray into the world of forensics began when they helped the FBI analyze video of the bombing that killed two people and injured hundreds more at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta. Hathaway and Meyer successfully clarified nighttime videotapes made with handheld camcorders, revealing important details about the bomb and the explosion.

Since their first case with the FBI, Hathaway and Meyer have worked over the years to refine the VISAR technology, improving it so that it is now ready to be transferred to companies that produce video enhancement systems for law enforcement, the military and even home computers.

By the end of this year, the FBI and other criminal investigators will be able to use the NASA technology at their own stations. The NASA scientists' invention -- called Video Image Stabilization and Registration, or VISAR - will be available in a video tracking and enhancement system developed by Intergraph Government Solutions, a subsidiary of Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville. The company has signed a licensing agreement with NASA to use VISAR in its Video Analyst System, which offers broadcast-quality analysis features on Intel-based hardware.

"After analyzing crime video for detectives and seeing the horrible details of some of these crimes, it gives me great satisfaction that police can use NASA technology to put murderers behind bars," said Hathaway.

Hathaway, for example, helped enhance security camera videotape made during the kidnapping of a Minnesota teenager. In an intensive effort, the FBI and police worked with Hathaway to identify the abductor and try to find the teen-ager before she was harmed. Police now believe she was killed. This summer, the tape was used as evidence in the trial of a man convicted of the murder. The VISAR system has proved so useful because it is able to correct the effects of jitter, rotation and zoom from frame to frame in video. Once corrected, the registered video images may then be combined to produce clearer images.

"At NASA, we routinely take satellite images of storm clouds and enhance them to see what is going on in the atmosphere," said Meyer. "Looking for clues about what is happening in a storm is similar to being a detective and finding out what took place at a crime scene." Commercial interest in licensing the Marshall invention is based on its ability to do more than just remove noise or "snow" from videos. The software also corrects for horizontal and vertical camera motion, as well as rotation and zoom effects. It produces clearer images of moving objects, smoothes jagged edges and enhances still images.

"By adding VISAR to our Video Analyst Workstation, we can now offer the law enforcement, military, intelligence and security communities these powerful capabilities in a comprehensive video analysis system," said Trey McKay, executive manager of Federal Hardware Solutions at Intergraph Government Solutions. "We look forward to working with NASA to integrate this innovative technology to extend our system capabilities and anticipate a significant impact on our customers and the industry as a whole." Video imagery for defense applications will also be improved through another licensing agreement between NASA and BARCO Inc. Display Systems, of Duluth, Ga. The company is incorporating VISAR into its new computer hardware, designed for real-time video image enhancement, stabilization, and tracking.

"The reconnaissance video imagery made by military vehicles, aircraft and ships traveling in harsh, rugged environments is often shaky and unstable," said Michael Garner, a BARCO new business analyst. "Our defense industry customers will be pleased with the improvements NASA's software makes to reconnaissance and surveillance video." These two licenses are for exclusive use in Intergraph's and BARCO's existing or new real-time hardware products. Now, NASA is seeking consumer software companies to license VISAR for home computers, said Sammy Nabors of NASA's Technology Transfer Department at the Marshall Center. For instance, to evaluate the use of the video enhancement software for medical purposes, Meyer and Hathaway are working with the Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland through a NASA Space Act Agreement. Officials at the institute have called the initial video evaluations "awesome." Through partnerships with the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, scientists at the Portland institute use an innovative technique to study video of cell movements in the eye associated with immune system diseases.

"Working with the NASA software, we can answer questions that advance our understanding of processes unique to the eye and our understanding of how the immune system works," said Dr. Stephen R. Planck, associate professor for the Casey Institute. "After NASA enhanced the video, we could see cell movements inside the eye that were undetectable before." The two Marshall Center scientists have completed test video analyses that show their patent-pending technology can improve home video - an area that may have the biggest market potential. To encourage companies to manufacture and distribute VISAR software for home computers, NASA recently asked companies to submit license applications and commercialization plans to the Marshall Technology Transfer Department.

"It's amazing to me that software we invented has the potential to be used everyday in home computers across America," said Meyer.

5 February 2003: NASA scientists help clarify clues in Fla. missing girl case: Technology enhances videotape for more detail by Frank D. Roylance, Baltimore Sun.

As police and FBI agents continued their search for a missing 11-year-old girl in Florida today, NASA scientists were lending a hand with technology they developed to steady jittery images of storms on the surface of the sun. Carlie Brucia of Sarasota disappeared Sunday after running into a stranger from behind a carwash as she walked home from visiting a friend. Her encounter with the presumed kidnapper was captured by the carwash security camera. The herky-jerky tape -- widely broadcast over the past two days -- shows a man in his 20s or 30s stopping the girl and leading her away [...]

Yesterday, investigators shipped the videotape to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where experts worked to bring out more detail on the images. Police hope the enhanced prints will make it easier to identify the man by his facial features, tattoos on his forearms or a company label on his shirt. After five hours of work with the videotape yesterday, David Hathaway, a solar physicist at Marshall and co-inventor of the video enhancement technology, said he had made "improvements" in the video and was preparing to send the results to the FBI in Florida. He declined to discuss what new clues he might have extracted from the tape.

"That's up to the FBI to show you what they'd like to show you," he said. But Hathaway praised the unusually high quality of the video. "We're amazed it came from a carwash," he said. "This is great video compared to what we see from banks and jewelry stores. . . . This was color, full-frame video." "I feel good" about the results, Hathaway said. "But in all of these cases you always wish you could do more." Police could not say if the video enhancements were a factor in the arrest.

Hathaway and atmospheric scientist Paul Meyer developed the enhancement technology in 1996 after FBI agents came to them with video images of the terrorist bombing at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. The two men are attached to the National Space Science and Technology Center at Marshall. They had developed ways to steady video images of the sun and of weather systems on Earth sent back by satellites. But those problems mostly involved correcting for vertical and horizontal motions caused by random movement, or "wobble," of the satellites. The Olympic bombing videos required the development of additional computer software to eliminate effects of camera rotation and telephoto zooming. When it was done, the FBI's forensic experts were able to glean useful details about the bomb.

The technology was dubbed VISAR, for Video Image Stabilization and Registration. It has since been licensed by NASA and commercialized by Intergraph Government Solutions. The Huntsville company provides video enhancement systems for law enforcement, the military and security services. Hathaway and Meyer have lost count of the number of crimes they have been asked to help solve with VISAR. Hathaway figures it is in the dozens.

"I always delight in telling people I'm wanted by the FBI, and was once featured on America's Most Wanted," he said [...]

VISAR has also helped free innocent people caught up in crime investigations. In one case, enhanced imagery from a security camera revealed that the man who robbed a Las Vegas convenience store was 5 feet 8 inches tall. That was enough to free the 6-foot-1-inch man who had been convicted of the crime. The VISAR technology works by first digitizing the analog images from video cameras, enabling them to be loaded into a computer. On the computer monitor, the person or object in the taped scene can be stabilized. Vertical and horizontal movement, as well as the effects of zooming and rotation of the camera, can be steadied. That enables witnesses, police and sketch artists to get a better look at such details as faces, clothing and license plates. Also, by taking a series of frames from a tape -- all shot within a very short period of time and nearly identical -- investigators can layer them together digitally. That does two things. It enhances detail that may have been too faint or missing in some of the individual frames, a bit like allowing the human eye to adjust to the dark. It also reduces the random electronic "noise," or "snow," that might have obscured the real image. Coupled with more conventional video processing techniques, the technology produces a picture that is steadier, brighter and clearer, with sharper edges [...]

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