Forget Facial Recognition: This Computer Can Recognize You by Your Tattoos

A team of researchers have developed a rather unusual method of catching criminals.

  • Share
  • Read Later
David Sacks

If you want to catch criminals you first need to know what they look like, right? In which case, you’d need to get a clear picture of their face. Sure, no problem on CSI, but in the real world that’s not always the easiest feat: the only images available tend to come from fuzzy security camera feeds or a bystander’s shaky camera phone.

(MORE: Chris Brown says his neck tattoo isn’t of a battered Rihanna)

In fact, according to Terrance Boult, a computer science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the images police investigators deal with “are often so bad that face recognition wouldn’t come even close” to finding a match from a photo database.

Not to worry. Boult, who is also the co-founder of the security startup Securics Inc, is on the job.  As InnovationNewsDaily’s Francie Diep explains, Boult’s team of researchers are developing a computer program that instead identifies suspects by their distinctive skin markings — in other words, by their tattoos.

(MORE: Vibrating tattoo could send text alerts straight to your skin)

The program isn’t sophisticated enough yet to identify a specific person by their tattoo alone, but it can use the image to find matches to similar tattoos on databases or on social media sites, which could then identify whether a criminal operated in a gang, and potentially trace this lead to gang members who might be aware of the suspect’s identity and whereabouts.

It has also been designed to match tattoos with descriptions from eyewitnesses, with the expectation that police investigators will in one day be able to type in the description of a suspect’s tattoo or other identifiable markings into a database, and see whether it corresponds with any eyewitness statements.

(MORE: Why I took my seven-year-old to a tattoo parlor)

Recognition based on skin markings is not a new concept, but where previous programs could only work from high quality stills, Boult’s team have developed a program that can be used with lower-quality photographs or even images captured while the subject is in motion — i.e. while a perpetuator is fleeing the scene. (Let’s face it, a criminal is hardly going stand still long enough for you to take his picture.)

While the program still has some way to go before it it will be ready for use by the FBI, a demo version is already available, ideal for any budding amateur investigators.

Boult and his team are due to present their findings a conference held by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers on September 25.

PHOTOS: The Art of War: Tattoos that honor the fallen for a lifetime