Interview with Adam Weiner, Principal, Strategic Innovation Group RPPI (Rapid Prototype and Platform Integration Group), Booz Allen
Recently, Booz Allen released its mobile forensics device, the VAMPIRE, which uses biometric technology – including Sherlock fingerprint sensors from Integrated Biometrics – to aid in crime scene field operations. Mobile ID World president Peter O’Neill, had a chance to speak with the company’s Strategic Innovation Group RPPI principal, Adam Weiner, about the forensic handheld, the vertical markets it aims to serve, and Booz Allen’s long history with biometric technology.
Peter O’Neill, FindBiometrics (FB): Adam can you please start by briefly reviewing Booz Allen’s involvement with biometrics over the past few years?
Adam Weiner, Booz Allen (BA): Booz Allen has been deeply involved in biometrics since 1994. We became involved in the field very early working for on Department of Defense projects, integrating biometric collection and storage systems well before there was broad interest or an understanding of the power of the capability. We had some unique challenges proposed by clients who wanted to obtain and process biometric information for Human ID, and so we built collection and storage systems out of devices that were not necessarily intended as biometric sensors; digital cameras, studio microphones, early livescans, that sort of thing. It was a very exciting and innovative time and we were able to do an awful lot with creativity. Certainly now the industry has evolved and there are a lot of excellent devices available on the street. Software, algorithms, and usability have matured considerably so the industry has been able to turn much more towards the integration of capability vs trying to string together components that weren’t necessarily meant to go together.
FB: That is a long history in biometrics. I speak to a lot of players in the industry and that is going back to the beginning so congratulations on that. You recently launched a new product into the market called VAMPIRE; can you please tell us about this?
BA: VAMPIRE is a tactical forensic device. Its primary purpose is to give fast, actionable information to operators in the field. There are a number of scenarios we can talk about, including use by investigators, detectives, and law enforcement agencies working in-field who need and would get tremendous value from a rapid match of forensic information. Today, a forensic team comes in and dusts for fingerprints, lifts the fingerprints, and sends the fingerprints back to a lab. Depending on the priority of the organization, they may wait days, weeks, sometimes even months because many of our national labs are overbooked, backed up, and flat-funded. They aren’t getting the additional funding they need to keep up with demand and so it can take a very long time for the end customer to actually get the results on latents collected at the scene. I want to stress that VAMPIRE is not meant to replace established forensic or lab processes, but rather to give early tactical value to operators in the field. An investigator can pull latent fingerprints off of material at a crime scene, and get a match or additional information within a minute – that’s fast enough to and act on the information tactically. VAMPIRE can help determine whether the suspect is still at the scene and had contact with evidence, which may drive questioning in real time – literally while you still have the individual right there with you. VAMPIRE also has value for triage and elimination. Instead of lifting and sending to the lab tens or dozens or hundreds of prints that could all be from a victim or the same suspect, VAMPIRE can help triage and determine which of the prints are unique or relevant. In some cases this can be a cost-reducer as well.
FB: That is a tremendous ROI because it would actually lessen the demand on some of the labs wouldn’t it?
BA: It should reduce the demand on the labs, but the labs remain critical. The labs are absolutely vital. The accepted forensic standard process remains untouched and continues uninterrupted, but VAMPIRE is able to supplement an investigation and give early information while the labs and forensic examiners do the human analysis.
FB: First responders must love this.
BA: I believe VAMPIRE has a lot of potential for mass casualty response and for reuniting folks post-disaster; it also has potential for law enforcement scenarios, arson investigations, and military scenarios such as post-IED analysis. VAMPIRE can even compare the prints on weapons to individuals at a scene who may be denying their involvement or possession of those weapons. But if an operator can prove that those individuals’ prints are on it, right there at the scene, it may drive lead generation and questioning.
FB: As a leading strategic consulting firm is it unusual for Booz Allen to be bringing a cutting edge product like this to market yourselves?
BA: Not anymore! Booz Allen has been moving in a number of ways towards taking what we have learned while working for so many clients over the years, and creating solutions that fill critical needs. We know how to do it, and we know where there is a demand and unmet mission need. We talk with many frustrated operators with problems that need to be addressed, and by taking that insight and merging it with our technology and capabilities from across the firm, what emerges is hopefully a desirable and meaningful product that will help at the mission level.
FB: That makes absolute sense to me and I think is very smart on Booz Allen’s part to take that step. So you mentioned a couple of vertical markets where this particular product is targeted, how broadly can it go? You mentioned law enforcement, probably defence; where else might it be utilized?
BA: Those are certainly right, federal law enforcement, military, state and local law enforcement, especially those organizations that have a lower lab priority where it takes them a little bit longer to get the results that they need. We think there is opportunity in certain commercial spaces; fraud and loss prevention for retail stores for example, and in the financial industry there are also organizations with internal fraud teams where this solution may help.
FB: The commercial space is so hot right now I would see applications for your product in that as well. So what is next for Booz Allen then in terms of bringing products to market?
BA: Well in the biometric space and for VAMPIRE specifically we have new attachments coming out that extend the forensic processing capability. You will see more of that coming out soon. We are also looking at taking our biometric and forensic expertise in occluded face ID and looking at product opportunities around that. We have very unique approaches to some very complex and hard to solve mission challenges. For example, how do you identify somebody who is doing their very best not to be identified? If they are wearing dark sunglasses and a hat, how can you identify them? There are many other products coming out from Booz Allen in areas beyond biometrics. We have robust surveillance technology products such as our SensorNet platform, an interactive data science training program called Explore Data Science, and a weak signal detection capability called Brimstone. I think you are going to see more and more come out of Booz Allen and I think it is going to stay very exciting.
FB: Well thank you very much Adam for telling us about your new product- VAMPIRE and I look forward to hearing more about future products as they are released. Thanks again for taking the time with us today.
BA: It was my pleasure, Peter.