IBM filed patents for airport security profiling technology

Published 3 February 2010

IBM has filed a dozen patent applications which define a sophisticated scheme for airport terminal and perimeter protection, incorporating potential support for computer implementation of passenger behavioral profiling to detect security threats

A dozen little-known IBM patent applications lay out a sophisticated computer-analysis-based approach to airport security. The technology has the potential to apply profiling of passengers, based on attributes such as age and type of clothing worn. One of the patents IBM is seeking even appears to go Israeli-style security one better, using analysis of furtive glances in the application entitled “Detecting Behavioral Deviations By Measuring Eye Movements.”

Alexander Wolfe writes in InformationWeek that the objective of the technology in the passel of patent applications is to alert officials to potential terminal and tarmac threats using a network of video, motion, chemical, and biometric sensors arrayed throughout the airport. The sensors feed into a grid of networked computers, which provide high-powered processing to get results to officials in real time, yet the systems are compact enough to be located on-site.

Wolfe writes that the “secret sauce” in the set up is a software “inference engine,” which crunches the data fed in by the multitude of sensors, separating the high-risk wheat from the false-alarm chaff. That engine uses heuristics and rules developed by the three co-inventors behind the patent applications — Robert Angell, Robert Friedlander, and James Kraemer. “These patents are built on the inference engine, which has the ability to calculate very large data sets in real time,” Angell told Wolfe.

Angell called Wolfe because he was surprised Wolfe had uncovered one of the patents, which Wolfe wrote about in his blog post, “Obama Security Push Spurring Scanner Patents (IBM’s Seeking One).” That post focused on the patent application “Risk assessment in a pre/post security area within an airport.”

Angell told Wolfe he believed the patents were under seal. That piqued Wolfe’s interest, because it indicated that this technology is probably more important — in the sense of being proprietary and cutting edge — than Wolfe had initially realized. As well, Wolfe knew of only the one patent and had not realized that, according to Angell, there were eight (since their conversation, Wolfe has uncovered twelve unique applications; the discrepancy might be due to the presence of duplicates — patent lawyers often revise and resubmit applications — or spin-offs).

It turns out that, in fact, the patent applications are not under seal, because the patent process is by definition open. Companies which want to shield proprietary technology go the trade-secret route, which means you keep your cutting-edge technology out of the public eye and hope