The Pentagon’s Laser Heartbeat Detector: A frenemy?

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Like privacy wasn’t already a subject of concern, the Pentagon unleashes a new identification model involving lasers and cardiac signatures. This is said to be used for military insurgence and detect high-risk individuals at confidential, sensitive, or unauthorized locations.

Up until now fingerprints, gait, or facial features have been commercially used to recognize individuals uniquely, be it for smartphone unlock or border control.

But the catch with these methods is that it is very easy to fool the systems by covering the face with a beard, sunglasses, or similar things, and these systems require a proper front view of the face which is not all that possible using a drone.

Imitating someone’s gait is also not a very difficult task with a little practice. And same is the case with fingerprints, there are a wide number of techniques to deceive a fingerprint detection system.

So, succumbing to the need for a more robust system, the Pentagon unleashed a new technique which is based on the cardiac signature, known as ‘Jetson’, for identifying individuals accurately from a distance.

The new model is said to work on the cardiac signature. Every individual has a unique cardiac signature which is nearly impossible to duplicate or alter for incorrect identification, and this is the potentiality that the US Special Forces are taking great advantage of.

Thus, identification based on this biological attribute is hoped to be highly efficient and accurate in identifying potential targets. 

It works on a mechanism called “laser vibrometry”, which is generally used for imaging vibrations or performing rapid non-contact measurements.

So, what Jetson does is, analyze the surface vibration that takes place due to the rhythm of the heartbeat and flow of blood. The surface vibrations are measured by calculating the Doppler shift of the reflected laser beams and detect the individual’s heartbeat by measuring the movement taking place on the surface of the body due to the heartbeat.

For this, a special gimbal is also integrated into the device aiming to keep an invisible, quarter-size laser spot on the target.

The chief aim was to develop this to identify combatants in the war zone from afar using infrared lasers. As opposed to other identification techniques, Jetson can perform a scan from as far as 200 meters and give accurate results.

Although, it is hoped that a wider range is possible with future developments. This model works meticulously with a thin layer of clothing like a jacket or a shirt, but work needs to be done for identification through thicker clothing materials like winter coats. 

The model has an accuracy of 95% to date and is believed to give better accuracy with some more research and development. There a few other limitations as well that demand extensive development to make the model better.

First, there is a need for a wide database of cardiac signatures for accurate identification. Regularly, biometric data is collected by the US armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could be incorporated into the database, so that it could later be used to identify militants that may be responsible for an attack on the American troops. Second, the model takes about 30 seconds to get a good return using the invisible laser, for this the target needs to be standing or sitting still which is not a real-world scenario if the military world is considered.

Also, this model, in its current development stage, can not get explicit recognition through thick layers of clothing. Due to this, Jetson is likely to be used alongside facial recognition and other identification methods for now. However, as most biometric recognition takes place in a controlled environment, the transition from those models to a non-compliant, non-controlled, standoff system only gives rise to complexity in the initial stages. 

So, how does it affect the daily lives of citizens?

Besides being of major use in the military department, it can also be of use by medical professionals to detect arrhythmias and other conditions by remote access. Hospitals could also perform patient diagnosis without the need to hitch them to a machine, which now seems like a lot of effort.

It can also be used to track down individuals, provided a sample of their cardiac signature is already collected. This model also finds a way in the identity authentication at small scale levels alongside fingerprint scans or facial recognition.

The major concern here is that these activities could be carried out without the knowledge and consent of a valid citizen in any country giving rise to privacy and security threats.

The government of many countries is suspected to be carrying out secret experiments and illegal privacy breaches, and the development of this model only raises concerns regarding individual privacy of heartrate related data. 

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