Boston Bombings - Outrageous Manufacturer Claims

As details emerge on the Boston bombing, the impact and use of surveillance technologies is coming into view. [Now, updated below with a list of manufacturer claims on how their products would have (ha ha) prevented or solved the bombings.]

The FBI says that one of the bombs was contained in a black backpack that looked like so:

Presumably, since no one suggests this is a suicide bombing, the bomber must have abandoned the bag outside.

Immediately, this raises the question of detecting the abandoned object, either through a person calling it in or an analytic system automatically detecting it. However, give the dense crowds and numbers of moving people, this would be very hard to do via computer.

The next question is the role of recorded video. Historically, this would have been whatever surveillance cameras were in place. However, a huge shift has occurred in the last 5 years. Now, literally everyone has cameras integrated into their phones and many people were recording images and videos before and during the incident. Given the sheer number of those cameras, their superior resolution to most deployed cameras, and the variety of angles they were taken at, those personal cameras could prove even more critical than public cameras.

There's been a debate about the 'crowdsourcing' of the investigation where people on the Internet are going through shared videos and images, looking for suspects. This image has gained the most attention:

This could simply be too guys hanging out, falsely accused on the Internet. Or it might be right, or there might be another lead identified by people on the Internet scanning through personal videos and images.

Questions: Any analytics that can help here? Either to detect beforehand or search? What about the role of traditional surveillance cameras vs. personal camera/phones?

How can the VP of LP for the NRF spout that BS?

Of all the science fiction quotes I've read over the past week (and, of course, beyond) that one is the most troubling. Here is a guy who should be intimately aware of the limitations of camera 'resolution enhancement'.

Unbelievable misinformation.

The Future Isn't Now Once The Today Show says it, it's true

A good article on about using FLIR cameras to identify the 2nd Boston bombing suspect. The camera used was identified as a Star SAFIRE III.

Here is a truly amazing story/ video!

A San Francisco TV station has a story titled, "SF company tracking software helps ID suspects" In it, it implies that 3VR was used at the Boston Lord & Taylor location to radically reduce time needed to 'ID suspects'.

We checked with 3VR and they confirmed that their recorders are not used at this location. In fairness, the 3VR person quoted in the article never claims their products were used there. However, the reporter certainly does.

Again, another brilliant job by 3VR's PR team to get this coverage but, my goodness, how misleading is this to readers/viewers who come away thinking that this product was actually used in this case.

Mayvbe this should be a lesson to software vendors- you don't have to lie about your products. You can take an honest approach and protect your integrity while uninformed media will do the lying for you.

Here's an article in Gigaom about "Why Facial Recognition Software is Not Ready for Prime Time." In it, they quote the director of the National Biometric Test Center saying "video intelligence company 3VR’s products were not used to find the Boston bombing suspects."

In Salon, there's an interesting interview with a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist about "Why Facial Recognition Failed," a solid review of the core technical barriers in doing so for the Boston bombers.

Finally, a face recognition vendor admits the obvious - facial recognition did not identify Boston bomb suspects. The CEO of Animetrics concludes:

"You have this God awful picture of these guys and trying to take the photo and match it with one in a database ... I know they tried but I don’t think they got great results"

Good article at Boston Business Journal.

"Paul Schuepp, CEO of Animetrics ... doesn’t believe its products or other technology were the main tools used by authorities in Quantico, Va. to identify the bombers."

Wow, that's a refreshing bit of honesty! You'd normally expect an admission like "facial recognition did not identify Boston bomb suspects" to be followed up by something along the lines of "but if they'd used OUR system..."

See, kids, THIS is how you gain RESPECT, rather than just flooding your name through the media along with all the other wannabes.

Well, if only life was so fair. Think about how many tens of thousand's of people 3VR's PR agency has duped and what a small number of people realize the reality of their posturing?

So, yes, certainly, those of us who carefully track these things respect Animetrics more than 3VR here but doesn't 3VR still win overall?

Guess it depends on how many actual DECISION MAKERS each has reached in their target audience, no? Sure, you can get Joe and Jane Average ooo'ing and aaaah'ing your name, but they're not the ones spec'ing your product. One hopes at least SOME of those signing the big checks for future projects are a little more discriminating than to make their choices based on media coverage.

HOPES, I say... trying not to be TOO cynical here. It's not easy...

Is it time to pull out this old gem yet? Sorry, I'm too lazy to photoshop in the appropriate players...

Matt, yes, I agree about that. It's certainly a lot easier to get non domain experts excited about such claims. That said, this is the physical security industry, so while some will certainly be a little more discriminating, I bet there will be enough that won't.

The reality is companies like 3VR or BRS Labs don't need 'everyone' to buy into their spin. If they can a dozen big wins a year, that's more than enough. PR Pays! :(

And here's another company claiming credit for solving the Boston Bombing, though this one may have legitimately been involved.

An Alabama TV station is reporting on how Intergraph's Video Analyst tool was used to help investigators piece together different video clips from multiple sources. Here's the TV report:

Oh boy. According to the 'Today Show', cameras are now so high tech 'they can actually pick out a bomb even hidden on the street before it goes off'. The example given is another 'abandoned bag in an empty area':

One, that bag is obvious not 'hidden'. Two, why do these mock terrorists always place bombs in areas with no people? Do they want to blow up newspaper stands? Three, unfortunately, NYC is on this as they demonstrate the example.

The video concludes with a visual of the Boston bombings and BRS Labs saying they are changing the face of law enforcement and that 'catching these events before they happen is the name of the game.' Does anyone, in their right mind, think BRS Labs would have prevented the Boston bombings?

End users need to share the blame in the desire for impossible surveillance solutions. In a new article on BRS Labs, the Texas Department of Public Safety statewide directory of security, and BRS customer, says:

“I needed something that was smart enough to learn, ‘This is a bus stop, this is where kids get off for tours, this is normal activity. It’s not normal activity if there’s a male 6 feet tall standing by a tree taking pictures of the kids.’”

He may need that but the likelihood that he is going to get that from any surveillance vendor is slim to none, because it's incredibly hard for any system to distinguish between a tall eight grader hanging out near a tree and an adult stalker.

"it's incredibly hard for any system to distinguish between a tall eight grader hanging out near a tree and an adult stalker."

...not to mention, distinguish between a short, gangly stalker and the normal group of kids.

After spending the last 2 weeks insinuating how wonderful face recognition was in identifying Boston bombers, now 3VR changes their tune:

"Facial surveillance is in productive use today, but was not likely much help for Boston. It takes a deliberate effort to set up facial surveillance and it is not well-suited for the ‘after the fact’ video being used, at least not yet."

I think so many times in the industry, the companys just want quick fast exposure and they dont care what or how they get it.

Getting into the front of the industry can be positive or negative and have a good impact on the sales.

Presence is extreme in the industry.

If the marketing guys are correct and the demographics truly are right.

Then the companys listed above are right where they want to be: Front of the class, regardless of what the perception is.

It is a matter of Marketing, Not right, wrong, true, or false

They just want to get to the front of the line and be able to get the numbers up.

Exposure is everything good or bad.

I wont go undisclosed to say this .

I could not disagree more with that thesis Christopher.

Truth is truth. Fabrication is fabrication. Truth is sustainable. Fabrication is not.

If the goal of your marketing is to fabricate stuff simply to 'get the numbers up' - even if this is a non-sustainable business model - they stop buying your stuff.

Once people figure out you are fabricating [especially if only after actually buying your stuff] they tend to tell everyone they know how they just got jacked by your marketing dept. Hence, my position that this is not a sustainable model.

So... what might be a potential motive for a company who 'just wants to get their numbers up'?

A government focused trade magazine site has an article with a highly misleading title: "How video analytics helps reconstruct Boston Marathon bombings"

Now, you might think that the article talks about what actually occurred but, no, it's a shallow speculation about what hypothetically could happen.

Manufacturers promoted - Briefcam and BRS Labs. Stupid claims include:

"So instead of spending 20 minutes looking at video in which nothing happens, the investigator can hit a button and in 30 seconds go to the area of interest and then begin to dissect what actually happened"

This is actually from an end user - the US Parks Police. Obviously, this 'benefit' is irrelevant in the case of the Boston bombing where there was fairly continuous movement all day.

The section on BRS Labs is simply incomprehensible. No attempt to explain how it would help with the Boston bombing, just that it scales to thousands of cameras because no rules are required.

Finally, they cite a forensic specialist who must be from a Tom Cruise movie:

"Using facial recognition software and video forensics, they then could cross reference security video of people buying pressure cookers with images — such as those of the two suspects — taken at the marathon finish line"

Seriously, if you do not understand why this is infeasible, you should not be anywhere near a security or surveillance system.

"Seriously, if you do not understand why this is infeasible, you should not be anywhere near a security or surveillance system."

That should be hung on a wall plaque somewhere.

"That should be hung on a wall plaque somewhere."

John could probably pull in some extra coin selling IPVM T-shirts with that phrase on them.

I think the next-to-last paragraph of the story is almost as laughable:

"Many older cameras use proprietary formats, which cannot be read by analytic tools. “We have to make sure the systems we are putting out are in a standardized format where we can apply any type of forensic tool,” he said."

So is he saying that cell phones, still cameras and all surveillance systems should use the same image format? Good luck!

@ Marty

So say : this may not be the case here, there is still some truth to it.

Years ago i did beta testing for a company called C&K out of Folsom Ca. , Well Known Company

This Company was really a chip manufactureer, But had a arm in the security industry.

They would knowingly put out the products so they could be in the front of industry , Make Corrections to the products , change thier idealogy in the process after the product was out .

Had some Great Products still great today ( Honeywell )

They knowing the products did not work properly sent them out the door , but because of deadlines,production,schedules ( UL ) , they would send out products that still needed work.

With the market where it is today and IT,Infrastructures,Internet capabilities so far along

It is very easy to upgrade, Make soft changes , and correct blatent mistakes on the fly to products as they are being installed .

We do soft flash updates constantly (eprom,eeeprom,softeeprom chipsets ) , which substantiates my claims of how things really work out thier .

Your company may not work this way , but some still do .

Bottom line is ROI, Invester returns, and Payback

Christopher, sounds like Microsoft's model - get it out the door, fix it later.

Not that that's a recipe for success, there were plenty of other things that put Microsoft where they are today... come to think of it, most of them were kinda shady too... okay, let's not use Microsoft as a "good example".

Bugs in software/firmware that hits the streets is one thing - and I will stipulate your given points above about development schedules/bad coding/marketing decisions, etc and the role these all play in all of us having to deal with non-perfect software. However, software/firmware bugs vs the actual efficacy of the product itself is apples vs doorknobs.

No company can stay in business (without periodic cash infusions) if they can not prove the fundamental value of their product. i.e. it has to be shown to actually do what they say it can. In the case of software/firmware bugs, the fundamental value is not in question; the technology has been proven to work.... even if not exactly all the time, every time (which is kind of what we all want/expect, no?) :)

In the case of some of these various analytic company claims, their fundamental value has never been proven (at least publicly), yet the massive media blitz that has been unleashed pushes hard to make everyone believe that their fundamental value is not even in question.

Microsoft is one of the best examples of how things really work. Companies know what it takes: cost, how to control damages, and Exposure. The bigger the client base the more tolerant they are of error.

I dont have that flexability. Larger Companies do (They can twist, turn, manipulate the truth) and get away with it.

Good Damage Control Policy's. Look at Tyco(ADT), Exxon Moble (BP), GE (Aviation)

They have all had great mistakes, blunders, and flat deceptive practices (They still survive well)

To a point, I agree , but it is about ROI - NMW , and Exposure - NMW and they want the front page for exposure so as to get products in the limelight . Company Goals - NMW

Granted policies, goal's, objectives, public perception makes a difference, but what goes on at the management level (behind closed doors) is far from what you see in the public image.

I have sat in on too many meeting's to believe that a company does not operate at these extreme tactics to get in front of clients. They have trips, vacations, golf to accomplish these undisclosed ideals, special meetings