Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL giving criminals one less reason to smile

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Feb. 9, 1999 — Low-quality images from video cameras at convenience stores and banks can thwart efforts to capture and convict robbers, so the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is working on a tool to bring criminals to justice.

The tool is a software package for personal computers to enable local and federal crime fighters to more clearly see criminals and images captured on surveillance tape. Because tapes are recycled perhaps hundreds of times, their quality is often poor. ORNL's Ken Tobin and colleagues Tom Karnowski and Tim Gee are developing algorithms and a variety of techniques to reduce noise - like snow on a television screen - and add pixels to increase resolution and fidelity of the videotape. Already, their technology has helped convict the killer of a convenience store clerk in Chattanooga.

"What we're doing is providing another tool for law enforcement agencies to use in solving crimes," said Tobin, of the lab's Instrumentation and Controls Division. In the case involving the store clerk, the clearer images on the tape revealed incriminating evidence and convinced the suspect to plea bargain and accept a life sentence without parole. ORNL's technology helped avoid a death penalty trial that would have cost the Hamilton County district attorney $100,000 with no guarantee of a conviction.

Federal law enforcement agencies are supplying ORNL with video data collected from real-world surveillance systems. Tobin and Instrumentation and Controls Division colleagues will use the tapes to develop a software program called multiframe video analysis for resolution improvement. It improves the quality of details such as text, insignias and facial features blurred by worn tapes. It can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal.

Tobin hopes to have software ready to be tested by the Secret Service and others by July. Field testing should take about a year, with software packages available in the field by the year 2000.

Funding for the project is provided by DOE. The video work is one of several projects and capabilities that have grown out of the Center for Applied Science and Technology for Law Enforcement in Oak Ridge.

ORNL is a DOE multiprogram research facility managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.