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May 2, 2018

Feds Seek Off-the-Shelf Imaging Technologies

Government agencies are increasingly looking to the commercial sector and particularly innovation hot spots like Silicon Valley for new machine vision and object detection technologies.

The latest example comes from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration that wants to use adaptive algorithms and object recognition technology to improve detection of threats such as explosives in air cargo or passenger luggage.

TSA and the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate released a solicitation this week seeking proposals from technology startups to enhance security screening at airports.

The tender is overseen by the S&T directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program. DHS is among a growing list of government agencies seeking to tap into the region’s reputation for innovation while streamlining hidebound acquisition policies.

TSA said Wednesday (May 2) it is seeking proposals from startups and small businesses for developing object recognition systems “that recognize, interpret and adapt to changes in objects, materials and other aspects of passenger property.” The TSA initiative is limited to small companies that have not held a federal contract in the last 12 months valued at more than $1 million.

As airborne threats become more sophisticated and harder to detect, TSA said it wants to upgrade its security screening arsenal with “adaptive-image interpretation and object-recognition capabilities.” Along with detecting explosives in cargo, luggage and carry-on bags, the agency said it is seeking “minimally intrusive” means of resolving potential security threats.

The solicitation seeks the “very best ideas for increasing security while easing the passenger experience,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

Among the requirements for the airport security system are the ability to alert TSA screeners of suspicious items as well as accounting for the “overall cognitive burden in the identification of prohibited items, risk elements or other items,” TSA said. The system would also have to comply with U.S. privacy and civil liberties requirements.

Startups participating in the innovation effort are eligible for up to $800,000 in funding over four program phases.

The agency has scheduled an “industry day” gathering in Menlo Park on May 4. The full solicitation is here.

The DHS/TSA program is similar to technology procurement initiatives launched by other federal agencies. The Pentagon formed its Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in 2015 to tap into emerging commercial technologies.

Recent DIUx efforts have also focused on image recognition technologies. Earlier this year, for example, the DoD unit along with the U.S. Geospatial-Intelligence Agency released a massive data set of satellite imagery for use in developing new computer vision techniques.

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