Facial recognition technology fails in Boston Marathon bombing case

(WXYZ) - When the FBI released photos during the search for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects they hoped computers could help. Ideally, software would compare the facial features in the photos to existing data and produce a match.

But even though both brothers were in public databases, the computers that searched the data missed them, and came up empty.

The government has been working on facial identification software since the 1960's. And companies like Facebook and Apple use similar technology to tag people in photos.

But security analysts widely admit this technology isn't good enough to spot a suspect in a crowd.

At Carnegie Mellon, Marios Savvides runs the Cylab Biometrics Center, "One of the toughest problems is low resolution. When you look at images collected from standard CCTV footage, the faces are way too small."

Savvides' team is developing next generation software to change poor quality and partial images into much clearer pictures. They are crating programs that can match images of people to their true identities, despite low light, movement or odd positions. They're even transforming flat pictures into 3D.

Savvides believes these programs can and will drastically improve the reliability of facial recognition and lead police to suspects much faster.

"And ultimately, hopefully, save a life. That's our aim, that's our goal, like everything we do here."

For now the FBI is installing its latest version of facial identification software to work with security cameras form coast-to-coast. It's part of a billion dollar program called Next Generation Identification.

But remember, in Boston it wasn't technology but humans that triumphed.

Print this article Back to Top