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Some smugglers can be very good actors... we look behind the face to find out what is truly going on; Aberystwyth scientists create a guilt scanner.

Byline: Robin Turner

A FUTURISTIC lie detector whose very existence would seem to stretch the bounds of credibility could soon be leading the fight against drug smugglers and terrorists - by reading their emotions.

Scientists at a Welsh university have developed a thermal imaging scanner which can read tell-tale "behind the face" physical signs of guilt such as minute fluctuations in blood flow and temperature.

Trials of the machine - which developers claim could one day help social workers determine whether children are unhappy with their home life - are due to start at UK ports and airports next month.

Professor Reyer Zwiggelaar, lead scientist at Aberystwyth University's Computer Science Department, which is working on the project with the UK Border Agency, said: "Some smugglers can be very good actors who can easily hide their emotions.

"That's why we aim to extend our reach to other non-visual domains such as the use of thermal imaging to study facial blood flow which is extremely hard to control.

"In a way we look behind the face to find out what is truly going on.

"This new technology is based on the modelling of facial expressions, eye movement and pupil changes in both the visual and thermal domains.

"And the system links these to emotions and physiological processes such as blood flow, eye movement patterns and pupil dilation."

The system's full name is Real-Time Dynamic Passive Profiling which allows users to observe people's feelings and emotions beyond what is expressed visually.

The technology has been likened to the kind of techniques used in fictional hit US TV show Lie To Me. In the series, Reservoir Dogs star TimRoth plays a genius psychologist hunting criminals by analysing micro-expressions, pupil dilation and body language.

Development of the hi-tech lie detector is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Aberystwyth research team will also collaborate closely with the Home Office, HM Revenue and Customs and leading international defence and security technology company QinetiQ.

Dr Hassan Ugail, head of visual computing research at the University of Bradford's School of Informatics, which is also involved in the research, said: "We are looking to develop technology that can profile people as they pass through border controls.

"If implemented, the ideal outcome would be to increase identification of smugglers and decrease the amount of contraband and drugs entering the UK.

"What we are proposing to develop is essentially a passive lie detector. We aim to automatically analyse people's facial expressions and eye movements in response to a series of questions through video images and computer-based intelligent algorithms.

"For example, trained officers at the border control points are very good in spotting people carrying contraband by simply analysing their facial expressions in response to questions, but it is tricky to teach a machine to do this.

"If successful, this work has a potential remit beyond border control applications.

"For example, the system could be used for police interrogations and interview scenarios."

Professor Zwiggelaar said while defeating the thermal imaging lie detector would be very difficult, no lie detector was foolproof.

"I suppose it's possible people could train themselves to restrict blood flow to the face but in situations of anxiety that would be one of the most difficult things to control.

But this could well be a useful future weapon against those who want to smuggle explosives or drugs.

"In the future it could have many uses, because it tells us how people are really feeling.

"There could be a number of reasons for wanting to know when people are happy or not, for instance social workers wanting to know if a child is really happy in a certain situation."

The system will be shown this week at the Impact! exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London, which runs until Sunday. The exhibition will visualise the potential impact of scientific developments from the across the UK and examine how they might affect how we live in a future Britain.

Among the gadgets on show will be machines that can home in on birdsong amid the din of the inner city, a scheme to combine wind, wave and sun energy in one energy converter, and even bags of coffee which use digital technology to change the packaging's colour as they gather air miles.

CAPTION(S):

LIE DETECTOR:Prof Reyer Zwiggelaar from Aberystwyth University and the thermal image of his own face. Below, Tim Roth from Lie To Me
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 17, 2010
Words:741
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