Public Release: 

NASA Scientists Aid Law Enforcement With New Software Technology To Improve Video Quality

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

Watch out, America's most wanted. NASA scientists have invented promising, new software technology to help law enforcement agencies catch criminals by improving the analysis of crime scene video.

Technology developed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., already has been used to help the FBI improve video of the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. NASA software clarified dark, nighttime videotape made with a handheld camcorder, revealing important details that had been obscured.

The technology also may be useful for medical imaging, scientific applications and home video. A provisional patent has been filed, and the technology will soon be available for licensing.

"This product has so many applications that will benefit the public -- from very technical to those almost anybody can use," said Paul Meyer, one of the technology's inventors at the Marshall Center.

Imagine a dark crime scene captured on videotape by a security system. The Video Image Stabilization and Registration (VISAR) software will eliminate flaws in the video, remove blurs and stabilize images. With the NASA video stabilization system, the crime scene will appear as if the crime happened in daytime, giving law enforcement officers the capability to identify valuable clues for crime solving.

"This NASA-developed technology has the potential to stabilize images so that criminals and other important clues can be identified, even in blurred images," said Dr. Arsev H. Eraslan -- the chief scientist of both the NASA National Technology Transfer Center and the Office of Law Enforcement Technology and Commercialization located in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Eraslan discussed the potential of the video stabilization technology with the NASA inventors at a recent National Technology Commercialization conference sponsored by the National Institute for Justice.

The Marshall-developed video stabilization system has many advantages over other systems being studied because it does more than just remove noise or "snow" from videos. It eliminates several problems often found in poorly recorded video.

"It's like a video eraser," said Dr. David Hathaway, the technology's co-inventor at the Marshall Center. "It removes defects due to image jitter, image rotation and image zoom in video sequences."

Hathaway, a Marshall solar physicist, has developed software to clarify video images of the Sun. His partner, Meyer, a Marshall atmospheric scientist, has refined image-processing techniques to analyze space launch video and to study meteorological images. When the FBI asked NASA to help improve the quality of the Olympic bombing video, the Marshall scientists volunteered their expertise.

"Our teamwork, with each of us coming from different disciplines, is what made the creation of this product possible," said Meyer.

The resulting Video Image Stabilization and Registration software stabilizes camera motion in the horizontal and vertical as well as rotation and zoom effects; produces clearer images of moving objects; smoothes jagged edges; enhances still images; and reduces video noise or "snow." Once NASA's new software improves the video quality, it is possible to use existing software to sharpen and "de-blur" images, thus further enhancing video clarity.

Hathaway and Meyer have produced sample videos showing how a blurry, "busy" video can be cleared up to reveal a person in a crowd, or how a jittery video can be enhanced, allowing a license plate to be read.

"Once digital cameras become more affordable, it might even be practical to use the system inside video recorders to stabilize and enhance images as they are recorded," said Hathaway.

Using a video capture device with a computer, the software will improve home videos or merge real with animated images.

"This technology has the potential to become a part of many products -- from those used by everyday Americans, to those used by sophisticated security and video production companies," said Hathaway.

NASA's Technology Transfer Office at the Marshall Center is helping Hathaway and Meyer patent their invention. The office also is working to encourage companies to license the product and use it in commercial applications.

"Our role is to transfer NASA inventions and technologies to U.S. industries," said Sammy Nabors of Marshall's Technology Transfer Office. "This video stabilization technology is an example of how Americans' investments in NASA's space program are returned to Americans in the form of a new technology that will improve their lives."

The video improvement system invented by Marshall scientists is a good example of how NASA technology can be used to fight crime. For an upcoming study, the National Institute of Justice and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have joined forces. They will explore how NASA's sophisticated spacecraft technology can be used remotely to identify everything from bodily fluids to gunpowder residue without disturbing crime scenes.


Note to Editors: For more information, photographs, or to arrange interviews, contact Ed Medal with Marshall's Media Relations Office at 256-544-0034. For an electronic version of this release, visit Marshall's News Center Web site at:

For more information on NASA's Technology Transfer Office, see:

To view a related story, please visit the Marshall Space Sciences Laboratory Web site at:

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