June 17, 2003 From bombings and other homeland security threats, to child abductions, to verifying the "real" Saddam Hussein, a video enhancement system developed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is proving to be a valuable law enforcement tool. It's helping agencies investigate crimes — and, put criminals behind bars.
It's been an unlikely outcome for an invention that started out as an effort by two space scientists to come up with a tool to assist in their studies of the Sun and weather systems on Earth.
The technology known as VISAR — short for Video Image Stabilization and Registration — can turn dark, jittery images captured by home video, security systems and video cameras mounted in police cars into clearer, stable images.
NASA scientists Dr. David Hathaway and Paul Meyer, who study violent explosions on the Sun and examine hazardous weather conditions on Earth, created VISAR to aid in their space-program research. Now, through NASA's commercial licensing process, the technology has become available in the marketplace and is increasingly finding applications with down-to-Earth benefits.
VISAR has been licensed commercially by Intergraph Corp., of Huntsville and incorporated into Video Analyst, a workstation that can stabilize and enhance video, brighten dark pictures and enlarge small sections of pictures to reveal clues about crimes. The system is built around the industry-standard Microsoft Windows operating system and Adobe Premiere video editing software.
"VISAR has a proven track record in delivering solid video evidence and is of paramount importance in our success with Video Analyst," said Trey McKay, manager of Integrated Products Division, Intergraph Solutions Group.
The VISAR "track record" includes about a dozen criminal cases where Hathaway and Meyer have assisted police departments and the FBI. The first, and still most notable, in the string of investigations was analysis of video from the infamous bombing in Atlanta's Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Summer Games. In that incident, Hathaway and Meyer worked with the bureau to enhance poor quality video clips.
More recently, ABC News asked Intergraph's Gene Grindstaff to analyze video clips that aired on Iraqi television March 20, apparently showing Saddam Hussein. Officials wanted to verify if Hussein survived a U.S. air strike the previous day, or whether the video was that of a body double. Using Video Analyst with VISAR, it took about 90 minutes to compare the ABC footage to prior Iraqi television images of Hussein and determine — with 99 percent certainty — it was Hussein, Grindstaff said.
Demonstrated capabilities such as these apparently are convincing for customers. A Chicago-area law enforcement association -- the South Surburban Mayors and Managers Association — purchased Video Analyst specifically based on its inclusion of the NASA-developed VISAR, McKay said. The association pooled resources to buy Video Analyst and 15 portable units, making the system available to 43 municipalities in the Illinois counties of Cook — which includes the city of Chicago — and Wills.
Last year, three Marshall Center employees, including Hathaway, Meyer and Sammy Nabors of Marshall's Technology Transfer Department, won the Federal Laboratory Consortium's Excellence in Technology Transfer Award for VISAR. Nabors works with Marshall scientists interested in patenting their inventions, and his department encourages companies to license products for commercial applications.
VISAR was named NASA's Commercial Invention of the Year in March. Hathaway and Meyer were also nominated by NASA to compete for the national Inventor of the Year Award and they were among the five finalists in the competition, which yearly recognizes outstanding American inventors whose work has been patented or made commercially available.
NASA's Technology Transfer Program improves life on Earth with technology developed in the space program. To learn more about VISAR and the Marshall Center, visit the Marshall Technology Transfer Department Web site at:
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