Reports from the IT Horizon

by / December 20, 2002
Walking the Walk
ATLANTA -- Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and elsewhere are developing technologies to recognize a person's gait.

Still in its infancy, the technology is gaining attention because of federal studies such as several Georgia Tech projects, funded by the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

One Georgia Tech study explores gait recognition by computer vision, and another takes an even more novel approach -- gait recognition with a radar system, similar to those police officers use to catch speeders.

The ultimate goal is to detect, classify and identify humans from as far away as 500 feet, day or night, and in all weather conditions. These capabilities would strengthen the protection of U.S. forces and facilities from terrorist attacks, according to DARPA officials.

Because gait-recognition technology is so new, researchers are assessing the uniqueness of gait and methods by which it can be evaluated.

With two years of experiments and analysis almost complete, researchers on both Georgia Tech projects are seeking continued funding for further studies. They still must address numerous technical issues; it will be at least five years before the technologies are commercialized, researchers said.

In the radar-system project, results from experiments, data analysis and algorithm design are promising, researchers said. The technique focuses on the gait cycle formed by the movements of a person's various body parts over time.

Researchers correctly identified 80 percent to 95 percent of individual subjects, with variances in that range during the three experiment days.

The next step is to build a more powerful radar system and subject it to lab and field testing. In experiments last year, subjects walked 50 feet away from the radar and then within 15 feet of it. Researchers are now building a radar system that can detect people from a distance of 500 feet or more.

In the study of gait recognition by computer vision, researchers identified subjects by focusing on "activity-specific static biometrics." These are static properties -- such as a person's leg length -- that can be measured from a single image.

Researchers also are developing statistical analysis tools that will allow them to use a small database with easily gathered data to predict how well a particular biometric, including gait recognition, will work on a larger population.
-- Georgia Institute of Technology

Raising Broadband Awareness
CONCORD, N.H. -- When the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development surveyed more than 500 businesses across the state about their awareness of high-speed Internet access availability, the results were surprising.

Just 25 percent of the businesses knew high-speed access was available in their area -- despite the fact that all cities in the state have at least 12 ISPs actively operating, said Stuart Arnett, director of the division.

"It was somewhat expected from the smaller companies, but that some of the larger companies still were a little confused [about the availability of broadband] was a surprise," Arnett said. "The bigger the company, the more likely they are to be aware of the accessibility of T1 [service] and related offerings."

Arnett, who also chairs the New Hampshire Telecommunications Development Advisory Board, believes it's the state's job to educate businesses about the benefits of high-speed Internet access as a productivity tool.

The board also found a vigorous local ISP industry, which also was a bit of a surprise.

"This local ISP industry, in addition to providing a roughly equivalent commodity, what they really excel at is the hand-holding," he said. "They're, often times, companies' IT departments. It's one of those things that, when you hear it, you say, 'Of course, that makes sense,' but it took us a while to realize it."

Convincing companies to invest in broadband often requires hand-holding -- and that's a service many local ISPs have become good at providing.

Businesses need to turn to somebody who understands the best solution for their building or their town, and they need somebody who can help them maximize their investment -- by helping them break up a T1 line so several businesses in one building can share it, according to Arnett.

"[Local ISPs] really are IT consultants," he said. "A lot of them told us they make a regular point of going into their clients' shops and fixing a half-dozen things, from getting servers back up and running to untangling other problems. That's the sort of thing you're not going to get large companies to do for small clients."

Online Cigarette Sales Hurt State Revenues
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nineteen states have hiked tobacco taxes this year, causing scores of smokers to buy "tax-free" cigarettes over the Internet.

States are trying to collect taxes on these sales, but a federal law that could help them isn't being effectively enforced, officials said. As a result, some states, especially those with high tobacco taxes, said they're being shortchanged by the surge in online cigarette buying.

Internet tobacco sales are expected to reach $5 billion nationwide by 2005, and states stand to lose approximately $1.4 billion in tax revenue from these sales, according to research cited in a recent report from the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Taxing online tobacco sales is complicated. Cash-strapped states are attempting to collect what revenue they can under a 54-year-old federal law -- but they often lack the resources and legal authority to enforce it.

"State law doesn't extend into other states where retailers are located," said Jim Jenkins, chief of alcohol and tobacco enforcement for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. "We need federal assistance."

The law in question is the Jenkins Act, which was enacted in 1949. It requires online retailers to provide sales records to states where goods are shipped so states can collect excise taxes.

However, violation of the act is only a misdemeanor with a penalty of $1,000, six months in prison or both. The act is supposed to be enforced by the Department of Justice and the FBI -- organizations with greater priorities, such as fighting terrorism, some state officials say.

No online cigarette vendors have been prosecuted for Jenkins Act violations, the GAO report said. To remedy the situation, the GAO recommended transferring enforcement of the Jenkins Act to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

At least seven states -- Alaska, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin -- have tried to enforce the Jenkins Act on their own. They've called and written letters to consumers and online cigarette retailers notifying them of their responsibilities to pay taxes and comply with federal law.

Some online retailers simply don't respond. Others claim immunity from the Jenkins Act because of Native American status. Roughly half of online cigarette retailers are Native American-owned, according to Eric Lindblom, manager for policy research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

A New Jersey legislator has taken a different approach. State Sen. Peter Inverso recently proposed legislation requiring shippers -- such as Federal Express or UPS -- to ensure cigarettes transported into his state are labeled as tobacco products. Inverso's bill would require shippers to check a consumer's ID upon delivery to verify age and to submit an invoice to the New Jersey Department of Taxation so the state could collect due taxes.

The bill, originally intended to deter minors from buying cigarettes online, also would help the state collect revenue lost to Jenkins Act noncompliance.

"The current enforcement mechanism isn't effective," said Steven Cook, Inverso's chief of staff. "We're targeting shippers because we know they will fall under our jurisdiction." -- Erin Madigan, Stateline.org

Thieves Take the Bait
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Three men who thought they had successfully stolen computer equipment from a parked car instead found themselves on their way to jail.

Unfortunately for the thieves, the car they broke into belonged to the Arlington County Police Department's "bait car" program.

During the evening of Aug. 25, the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) received a signal that the bait car was broken into. ECC personnel notified officers in the area, who immediately put the vehicle under surveillance. The officers watched three male subjects standing near the bait vehicle; one of the men was holding a bag that looked full. The officers knew the bait car contained computer equipment and stopped two of the subjects, determining that the computer equipment in the bag had been taken from the bait car.

Police officials said the arrests were the department's second successful activation of a bait car. The first occurred on April 13, when an Arlington resident was arrested and charged with grand larceny auto, possession of burglary tools and driving with a suspended license.

Bait cars are specially equipped vehicles placed on the street in the hopes of attracting thieves. The cars, camouflaged to look like normal vehicles, transmit a signal to the ECC when entered or started.

ECC personnel can then track the vehicle via GPS technology and remotely control several of the vehicle's functions, including the engine, which significantly reduces the possibility of a stolen bait car being involved in a high-speed pursuit and decreases the risk to officers when apprehending a suspect in a bait car.

The program is the result of a partnership between the county and HGI Wireless, a Canadian company that also has worked with Minneapolis, Minn., to deploy bait cars in the United States.