The Military Is About to Get New Spy Glasses

The Defense Department’s new smart spectacles go beyond Google Glass.

An attendee is fitted with Google Glass during the Google I/O developer conference on May 17, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Eight members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus sent a letter to Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page seeking answers to privacy questions and concerns surrounding Google's photo and video-equipped glasses called 'Google Glass'. The panel wants to know if the high tech eyeware could infringe on the privacy of Americans. Google has been asked to respond to a series of questions by June 14.
National Journal
Patrick Tucker, Defense One
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Patrick Tucker, Defense One
June 26, 2014, 6:28 a.m.

Get­ting secret in­form­a­tion to spe­cif­ic people, like the loc­a­tion of the nearest nuc­le­ar power plant, in a way that doesn’t draw at­ten­tion from out­side is a clas­sic spy prob­lem. An­oth­er one is giv­ing agents the abil­ity to match names to faces in the real world, at black­jack tables and fancy soir­ees and oth­er places spies fre­quent. The De­fense De­part­ment is buy­ing some new spy specs to give spooks in the field an in­tel­li­gence edge over every­body else.

The glasses, called simply the X6, are from San Fran­cisco-based Os­ter­hout Design Group. They look like the lovech­ild of Google Glass and the Oculus Rift, provid­ing more in­form­a­tion to the wear­er than the small win­dow on Google’s much-ma­ligned head­set but not ob­struct­ing vis­ion like the Oculus Rift. (Ad­mit­tedly, for spy glasses, they lack a cer­tain sub­tlety.)

At a re­cent in­nov­a­tion sym­posi­um at De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency headquar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Bobby King, vice pres­id­ent of spe­cial pro­jects for Os­ter­hout, demon­strated how the head­set provides situ­ation­al in­tel­li­gence. De­fense Onelooked through the glasses at a stat­ic, two-di­men­sion­al map and sud­denly struc­tures ap­peared in three di­men­sions re­lated to ob­jects of in­terest. King con­firmed that the map was just a reg­u­lar print of a satel­lite pho­to­graph. With that par­tic­u­lar app, the glasses send in­form­a­tion to a serv­er that then pro­cesses the im­age against oth­ers to de­term­ine the loc­a­tion de­pic­ted. The glasses then present data from the data­base visu­ally in the form of struc­tures, spe­cial in­struc­tions, clues, etc. The view was smarter and more use­ful than what you would see with Google Glass, but didn’t get in the way of the user’s abil­ity to ac­tu­ally see, like a clunky vir­tu­al real­ity head­set.

“Aug­men­ted real­ity is the fu­sion of data and your real en­vir­on­ment. We’re look­ing for an im­mers­ive feel­ing, but not vir­tu­al,” King said.

Cool map data aren’t the only secret mes­sages you can re­ceive on the X6. Pre­vi­ous re­ports have hin­ted at how the glasses might be use­ful for gam­ing and train­ing as well. It’s one reas­on why Mi­crosoft re­portedly inked an in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­erty deal with the com­pany for about $150 mil­lion earli­er this year. The mil­it­ary and in­tel­li­gence cap­ab­il­it­ies are a bit more in­ter­est­ing than its rel­ev­ance as a gam­ing plat­form.

Ever been to a gath­er­ing where you saw someone’s face but you couldn’t re­mem­ber her name or why she was im­port­ant? It’s not just a cock­tail party prob­lem but a na­tion­al se­cur­ity one. A year old star­tup form Aus­tralia called Imagus, has de­veloped a pro­gram for the X6 that fixes the prob­lem.

Peer­ing through the glasses at a poster of faces while wear­ing the X6, a test­er us­ing the Imagus fa­cial re­cog­ni­tion app sees a pair of small circles ap­pear on the eyes of the vari­ous tar­gets and then a quick match showed up in the view as demon­strated in a some­what un­nerv­ing video from Gen­er­al Dy­nam­ics In­form­a­tion Tech­no­logy, GDIT, high­lights the “dy­nam­ic en­vir­on­ment of non-co­oper­at­ive fa­cial re­cog­ni­tion.”

The Imagus app can match a face in real time to one in a data­base at a res­ol­u­tion of just twelve pixels between the eyes ac­cord­ing to lead soft­ware en­gin­eer Steve Brain. (Any­thing un­der sixty is con­sidered very good in the fa­cial re­cog­ni­tion world.) The size of the head­set seems to help with tar­get­ing the cam­era to im­prove speed and ac­cur­acy. The glasses could be mod­i­fied to con­nect to a mil­it­ary bio­met­rics data­bases such as BE­WL, King con­firmed.

GDIT is work­ing with Os­ter­hout, Imagus and oth­er small com­pan­ies to de­vel­op a host of apps and pro­grams around the X6 plat­form.

“What they want with the glasses is to bring in a lot of dif­fer­ent ap­plic­a­tions. Fa­cial re­cog­ni­tion tech­no­lo­gies from im­ages is just one ex­ample,” Lynn Schnurr, vice pres­id­ent at Gen­er­al Dy­nam­ics In­form­a­tion Tech­no­logy, told De­fense One.

The De­fense De­part­ment has pur­chased 500 beta units of the glasses ac­cord­ing to King. Un­for­tu­nately, the gov­ern­ment’s spy specs are not for you. “It’s not yet com­mer­cially avail­able, but for the gov­ern­ment, yes.”

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