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ALERT Program

Upcoming 2017 Industrial Advisory Board Meeting September 27, 2017

ALERT is once again hosting its annual Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) meeting at the Kostas Research Institute in Burlington, MA. The October 16th event will include many of ALERT’s industrial members, representatives from ALERT’s DHS Office of University Program (OUP) customers and other DHS components, such as DHS S&T, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as well as a representative from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The agenda has evolved to include two guest speakers, a student poster session, and networking reception. Additionally, the event will include welcome remarks from Tim Connelly, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a faculty speaker, a testimonial of successful government/faculty/industry collaboration within ALERT, and a tour of the ALERT Video Analytics Laboratory. Presenters include:

  • Guest Presenter: Thriving in the Innovation Economy through Collaborations of Government, Universities, and Industry, Gary Markovits, CEO, Innovation Business Partners, Inc.
  • Guest Presenter: Guardian Centers Capabilities and Case Studies, Tim Maloney, VP, Business Development, Guardian Centers, LLC
  • Industry Presenter: An ALERT Case Study for Successful Collaboration and Transition, Jeff Schubert, Sr. Staff Scientist, AS&E
  • Research Presenter: Imaging at Speed Using a Multicoded Compressive System, Jose Martinez-Lorenzo, Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Jointly Appointed, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Northeastern University

ALERT’s annual IAB Meeting, and other members-only events give industrial members the opportunity to network with other members, faculty from ALERT’s partner institutions, and local, state, and federal representatives. Other advantages of ALERT industrial membership include admission to the Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE), providing industrial members with access to qualified job-seeking students; the opportunity to request targeted research in an area of interest to their organizations; and waivers of ALERT workshop registration fees. For more advantages of ALERT industrial membership, please see the Benefits of Collaboration, or contact our Industrial and Government Liaison Officer, Ms. Emel Bulat at e.bulat@neu.edu.

Student Spotlight: Elizabeth Wig September 27, 2017

Congratulations to Elizabeth Wig, a Northeastern University (NU) Electrical Engineering undergraduate conducting ALERT research, for receiving the Society of Women Engineers GE Women’s Network Scholarship! Elizabeth will receive this award, which comes with a $5,000 stipend, in October 2017 at the SWE Annual Conference in Austin, Texas. Elizabeth has been working with ALERT R3 Thrust Leader, Professor Carey Rappaport since Summer 2016, conducting research on “Computational Models & Algorithms for Millimeter Wave Whole Body Scanning for AIT,” in collaboration with Smiths Detection (Project R3-A.2). When asked how Elizabeth got involved with the project so early on in her undergraduate career, she explained that she met Professor Rappaport at a NU-sponsored ski event and found out about his research while riding up the mountain on a chairlift. However, Elizabeth explained that her interest in this research began much earlier, “When my high school physics class did its electricity and magnetism unit, the symmetry was strikingly beautiful. I loved the way relatively few equations could describe so much of what makes up our world, from why sunrises are so beautiful to the way molecules hold together to Wi-Fi.”  The aspect of her research that she is most passionate about is math, and learning about the different ways mathematics can be used to describe and explain our world. This fits in well with her role on the project, which involves developing the model used to detect and characterize potential explosives threats and eliminate false alarms using a millimeter-wave body scanner. She has been working to make and refine the model to improve the accuracy in characterization.

Beyond her recent award, Elizabeth has also published a paper on her work with Mahdiar Sadeghi, a Northeastern graduate student, and Professor Rappaport, and is currently working on her second paper. She and Mahdiar were also asked to present their work at the ADSA15 (Advanced Development for Security Applications) Workshop in November 2016.

Elizabeth has already gained valuable work experience through her Spring 2017 co-op position at Draper Laboratories in Cambridge, MA. There she worked on electrical engineering projects in their Sensors and Imaging Systems group. As for her future career, she hopes to continue her education and complete a Ph.D. program, and if possible, get the opportunity to travel more internationally and work with NASA!

ALERT Researcher Awards & Accomplishments September 27, 2017

September 26, 2017

Professor Bouman Nominated for ACM Gordon Bell Prize

Professor Charles Bouman of Purdue University has been nominated for an ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Gordon Bell Prize. Professor Bouman co-leads research on the ALERT project, “Toward Advanced Baggage Screening: Reconstruction and Automatic Target Recognition (ATR)” (Project R4-B.1), with the overarching goal of finding the best mapping method from X-ray data to a decision on the relative safety of individual bags in security settings, such as airport checkpoints. Professor Bouman and his research team study the reconstruction problem with the end goal of detection, while also designing algorithms for image analysis that can best exploit the improved image quality in iterative methods. Their aim is to reduce the false alarm rate without sensitivity loss in detection. They hope to eventually reduce security costs to the transportation industry.

The Gordon Bell Prize is awarded each year to recognize outstanding achievement in high-performance computing. The purpose of the award is to track the progress over time of parallel computing, with particular emphasis on rewarding innovation in applying high-performance computing to applications in science, engineering, and large-scale data analytics. Prizes may be awarded for peak performance or special achievements in scalability and time-to-solution on important science and engineering problems.

Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo Awarded $546K DOE Grant

Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo of Northeastern University was awarded a $546K grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) for “Fusing Thermoacoustic, Electromagnetic and Acoustic/Seismic Wave Fields for Subsurface Characterization and Imaging of Flow Transport.” According to the DOE, “The overarching goal of this research program is to gain knowledge on the theory and experimental validation of a new unified sensing and imaging methodology for coupling Electromagnetic (EM), Acoustic/Seismic (AC/S), and novel Thermoacoustic (TA) physical fields, which will be applicable to multi-physics and multi-scale material characterization and underground imaging of fluid flow in porous media.” This research will help Professor Martinez-Lorenzo build upon his work with ALERT, specifically Project R3-B.1 and Project R3-B.2.

Professor Otto Gregory Awarded Patent for Gas Sensor System

Professor Otto Gregory of the University of Rhode Island was awarded a patent for “Systems and Methods for the Detection of Compounds” on September 12, 2017. Triacetone-Triperoxide (TATP) is an explosive commonly used in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and is very difficult to detect using conventional explosives detection techniques, because most of these techniques were developed for nitrogen-based chemistries, not peroxide-based chemistries. In addition, TATP readily sublimes at room temperature, meaning that it can only be found in relatively high concentrations in the vapor phase compared to other commonly found explosives used in IEDs. Professor Gregory’s invention provides a gas sensor system for detection of a compound that decomposes upon exposure to a metal oxide catalyst, and incorporates the exposure of the compound to a microheater, which allows accurate detection to occur at smaller concentrations. For more information on Professor Gregory’s research with ALERT, see Project R2-B.1.

ALERT Phase 2 Year 4 Annual Report Available Online! September 27, 2017

ALERT is proud to announce that the Phase 2 Year 4 Annual Report is now available for download online. This report details the continued research in ALERT’s four thrusts:

  • R1 Characterization & Elimination of Illicit Explosives
  • R2 Trace & Vapor Sensors
  • R3 Bulk Sensors & Sensor Systems
  • R4 Video Analytics & Signature Analysis

A full bibliography of publications and presentations conducted under ALERT support follows the individual project reports. Comprehensive descriptions of the Year 4 activities that took place in our Research and Transition, Education, Strategic Studies, Safety, and Information Protection Programs, as well as the ALERT Phase 2 Overview and Year 4 Highlights, Infrastructure and Evaluation, and Industrial/Practitioner and Government Partnerships can also be accessed in the Annual Report.

DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 10/20: ALERT Professional Development Award September 22, 2017

ALERT Students, the deadline for the ALERT Professional Development Award has been extended to Friday, October 20, 2017. This award provides up to three students with financial support to attend a conference or visit an ALERT or DHS affiliated lab as part of their research experience.

Apply Today!

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New Video Analytics Dataset available for use August 25, 2017

ALERT Airport Re-Identification Dataset

As part of the ALERT video analytics effort, researchers at Northeastern University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed an annotated dataset that accurately reflects the real-world person re-identification problem. The dataset was constructed using video data from the six cameras installed post central security checkpoint at an active commercial airport within the United States. (No NDA required)

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Follow ALERT on Facebook August 24, 2017

ALERT recently joined Facebook! Follow us online and keep up to date on ALERT’s research and education programs, as well as upcoming events and opportunities. Search @alertcoe on Facebook for ALERT updates.
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Video Analytics Lab Hosts First CLASP Exercises July 28, 2017

On July 21, 2017, the newly launched ALERT Video Analytics Laboratory at Northeastern University’s Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security (KRI) hosted the first exercises related to the Correlating Luggage and Specific Passengers (CLASP) research project. Funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the project is also known as “Research and Development of Systems for Tracking Passengers and Divested Items at the Checkpoint.” The July 21st exercises were conducted as a means of collecting video data of passengers moving through a mock airport security checkpoint that simulates real-world conditions.

The video data collected during these exercises will be made available to ALERT research teams from Boston University, Marquette University, Northeastern University, Purdue University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which are working toward developing an automated system capable of tracking passengers and divested items. The primary objectives of CLASP are to assist the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in effectively identifying security incidents like theft of items or bags left behind at the checkpoint. By automating and improving the technologies associated with these objectives, ALERT aims to increase rates of detection, while also enhancing the passenger experience.

For more information about the Video Analytics Lab and the development of the CLASP project is available here.

Airlines for America (A4A) Visit ALERT July 28, 2017

On July 19, 2017, ALERT hosted Airlines for America (A4A), a trade association based in Washington, D.C. A4A member airlines and their affiliates transport more than 90% of U.S. passenger and cargo traffic. A4A’s stated purpose is to “foster a business and regulatory environment that ensures safe and secure air transportation and enables U.S. airlines to flourish, stimulating economic growth.” As such, A4A’s support is critical to ALERT’s mission and developing closer ties is of strategic importance to our researchers and our industrial partners.

A4A representatives started the day by being presented with an overview of ALERT’s organization, research, and partnerships with industry by ALERT’s Deputy Director, Prof. Carey Rappaport. This presentation was given at Northeastern University’s Kostas Institute for Homeland Security (KRI) in Burlington, MA and was followed by a tour of ALERT’s Video Analytics Laboratory, which is housed at KRI and is currently being used for ALERT’s Correlating Luggage and Specific Passengers (CLASP) research project.

The group then returned to Northeastern’s main campus in Boston, MA and toured the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) Laboratory led by Professor Carey Rappaport and the Sensing, Imaging, Control and Actuation (SICA) laboratory lead by Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo. Both labs provided demos of ALERT’s On-the-Move technologies and Whole Body Scanning technologies; the latter demo was assisted by ALERT’s current Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) students. The A4A team was very impressed with the research presented and requested a second day-long event to allow representatives from A4A member organizations to see firsthand the results of ALERT’s research efforts.

In building partnerships with A4A and the airlines and affiliates they represent, ALERT hopes to deliver relevant and field-able technologies to the air transportation community.

Five Questions with Srikrishna Karanam (RPI, MS ’14, PhD ’17) July 28, 2017

Former ALERT student researcher, Srikrishna Karanam, reflects on his time with ALERT and how it prepared him for working in the Homeland Security Enterprise.

Srikrishna joined ALERT in 2013 as a graduate student working with Prof. Richard J. Radke at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) on video analytics problems in camera networks. At RPI, he earned his MS in Electrical Engineering and his Ph.D. in Computer and Systems Engineering. Srikrishna is now working as a Research Scientist at Siemens Corporate Research, focusing on computer vision and machine learning.

What professional development opportunities, aside from research experience, benefitted you during your time as an ALERT student?

SK:  During my time as an ALERT student, I attended several major conferences in Computer Vision – CVPR 2015 in Boston, MA, BMVC 2015 in Swansea, UK and ICCV 2015 in Santiago, Chile.  Going to these conferences allowed me to discuss open problems and establish connections with several researchers in my field. Furthermore, I participated in several ALERT events – ASPIRE, ADSA, and ALERT annual meetings – where I got opportunities to present my work to several stakeholders in the security and surveillance industry.

These ALERT events were crucial in that they helped me focus my algorithmic and systems research on operational aspects from an end-user’s perspective – I believe these are critical issues as we transition laboratory research into working prototypes in the real world. 

We understand that you were working under the supervision of former ALERT student, Ziyan Wu (RPI, PhD ‘14) during an internship with Siemens Corporate Research (Princeton, NJ) last year. What were some highlights from that experience?

SK:  I was given a lot of independence in addressing existing problems the group at Siemens was tackling. This gave me an opportunity to explore several algorithmic as well as implementation and engineering components of the project I was assigned to. At the algorithmic level, I developed new algorithms and demonstrated improved performance on internal datasets. In addition, I assisted the group in integrating these algorithms as part of a large system that has been deployed for in-the-field testing.

This assignment provided me with valuable, real-world, hands-on research experience. Ziyan and others in the Vision Technologies and Solutions group were very supportive, kind, and welcoming, and I thoroughly enjoyed working there and developed great friendships along the way. 

During your time at ALERT, you collaborated with ALERT teams from RPI, Northeastern University, and Boston University. Can you tell us a little bit about these collaborations and how they have prepared you to work in industry? Have you continued these collaborations post-graduation?

SK:  I worked with the ALERT teams from RPI, Northeastern University, and Boston University on the VAST “Tag and Track” project (see related video at: http://www.northeastern.edu/alert/news-article/alert-101-is-back/) for over 3 years.  Each team was responsible for specific parts of the project, with the goal of deploying and testing a working prototype of the system at the Cleveland International Airport, which was successfully achieved in Summer 2015.

The “Tag and Track” project provided me with real-world research, development, and project management experience, helping develop skills that are particularly relevant to industrial research labs. At Siemens Corporate Technology, I have been working on solving vision problems with practical relevance across multiple industrial units, and my experience with ALERT has helped me transition into my current work environment seamlessly.

Because of this project, I developed close collaborations (and friendships) with several researchers from Northeastern (specifically, Mengran Gou (NU, PhD ’17) and Oliver Lehmann (NU, PhD ’15)) in addition to Ziyan Wu and Austin Li (RPI, PhD ’15) from RPI. For instance, since the winter of 2015, Mengran and I have been closely collaborating on a project where our goal is to benchmark the current state-of-the-art in person re-identification for the convenience of the larger research community – as part of this work, we have evaluated several hundreds of different algorithms on numerous public datasets. Ziyan and I have been closely working together on numerous problems for many years – initially at RPI and now at Siemens.

Can you describe your role at Siemens and the research you are conducting now?

SK:  I work as a Research Scientist in the Vision Technologies and Solutions group at Siemens Corporate Technology, where I research topics in Computer Vision and Machine Learning. I am responsible for developing algorithms to address research problems, as well as prototype systems that leverage these algorithms to solve real-world problems. My current research focuses on all aspects of image indexing, search, and retrieval with applications in object recognition and pose estimation.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

SK:  My past research experience at RPI and ALERT has made me realize the importance of, and challenges in, getting lab-optimized research to work effectively in the “wild” real-world. To this end, I hope to contribute towards bridging this “gap,” enabling and building systems that offer Computer Vision, Machine Learning, and Data Analytics technologies as services to solve a wide variety of real-world problems.