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But recent scans of the just-opened EMPAC building illustrate an interesting hurdle facing the latest LiDAR technology. EMPAC is mostly glass, and Radke found out that while some of the LiDAR laser beams reflected off the glass surfaces, many pass through the glass and hit objects inside the building, while other beams went astray and were never reflected back to the scanner. This makes it difficult to get an accurate idea of where the outside of the building is, Radke says, presenting a challenge for his group’s stitching and image localization algorithms.

After capturing a LiDAR model of an environment, Radke is looking into ways of automatically detecting differences or changes between multiple scans as well as assessing uncertainty about regions of the scene that have missing or ambiguous information—technology, he says, that could be extremely beneficial for homeland security and defense applications. In fact, the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command initially funded the LiDAR research of Radke, who is now supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Last summer Radke toured the country’s military facilities as one of a dozen young researchers to participate in DARPA’s 2007 Computer Science Study Panel, a nationally competitive program. The multiyear program aims to support university research in computer science and related fields, while informing a new generation of researchers about the needs and priorities of the nation’s defense agencies.

Radke and his fellow participants were encouraged to view their own research through this new perspective and then to explore and develop technologies that have the potential to transition innovative and revolutionary computer science and technology advances to the government.

“The basic idea is to expose young faculty to Department of Defense-related activities, via briefings by military and intelligence officers and ‘field trips’ to military and industrial bases,” he says. Radke got to experience some physical as well as intellectual thrills in the program. He jumped from the 34-foot paratrooper training tower at the Advanced Airborne School at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., and while lying down in the back of a KC-135 transport jet watched three nearby F-15 fighter jets refuel in mid-air.

Radke also visited seven of the nation’s nine military combatant commands, along with the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and other high-level security organizations. Along with traveling on military aircraft, sleeping in military lodging, and eating military food, he met dozens of military personnel as well as former officers who lead and work for the Institute for Defense Analyses, which administers the program.

“Traveling with these people really opens up doors at places you visit,” he says. His appreciation for the efforts of men and women in the U.S. military also grew. “Understanding what these people do on a day-to-day basis, you can’t help but be impressed.”



“The Big Brother stuff is certainly a concern. Monitoring people as they walk through crowds and analyzing their behavior is a little dicey,” Radke says. “But I like to think the projects I’m working on have value beyond surveillance. Disaster area imaging and cancer detection could really make a positive impact in people’s lives.”

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Future Vision

Radke says he has mixed feelings about the uses of machine vision technology, especially as it may threaten personal privacy. While he tries to steer clear of working on new technologies that are solely dedicated to surveillance and “James Bond stuff,” he says it’s difficult to avoid altogether.

“The Big Brother stuff is certainly a concern. Monitoring people as they walk through crowds and analyzing their behavior is a little dicey,” Radke says. “But I like to think the projects I’m working on have value beyond surveillance. Disaster area imaging and cancer detection could really make a positive impact in people’s lives.”

While the defense and security industries have a stake in the future of machine vision, Radke says consumer electronics companies and academia are the primary driving forces of the field. Machine vision is already widely used in industry, for example, by assembly line robots that can spot defects in parts or products.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.