The USAF has begun implementing facial recognition on some of its drone fleet

Why this is important: The US Air Force has begun implementing facial recognition into its autonomous drones. The Air Force intends to use the technology for Intelligence gathering and in support of “other missions.” However, some fear that the US may deploy drones for assassination and that even the most sophisticated systems are still not 100 percent accurate.

The added capability comes from longtime Seattle tech firm RealNetworks. The name might sound familiar because it’s the same company that got into streaming media before anyone else. You may remember RealPlayer from the late 1990s and some of the flexible live broadcasts that the media player could stream.

Since then, RealNetworks has shifted its focus to machine learning and facial recognition, developing the Secure Accurate Facial Recognition (SAFR) platform in 2018. New Scientist says that by 2021, RealNetworks has scored a $729,000 Phase II Pentagon defense contract to adapt SAFR to small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS).

RealNetworks fulfilled that contract at the end of last year. In addition to self-flying, the company says drones can help in a variety of situations, including rescue missions, perimeter protection, and home search operations. The technology also reduces risks for Air Force personnel in security situations, recognizing faces with 98.85 percent accuracy.

“We see this as a unique opportunity to demonstrate how AI is a force multiplier and can be used to reduce risk for security forces and emergency responders,” said SAFR product manager Eric Hess. of Airforce Technology in 2021 after winning the bid for a land. -based vehicle system.

Proponents of the technology say equipping robotic machines with the ability to pull a trigger is dangerous and unethical. Such systems are not fail-safe, and an indiscriminate autonomous vehicle could harm the innocent. We recently saw this issue overturn the San Fransico Police Department’s decision to allow robots to use lethal force in situations where the lives of officers or citizens are threatened.

The USAF admits it will not fly unmanned drones without human supervision. At any time, commanders can issue operators stop directives and other commands to a sUAS. It is important to remember that even human pilots should receive a go-ahead to fire unless the enemy is already engaged with them.

Additionally, sUAS aircraft are not the same as large combat drones. They are no bigger than their consumer grade cousins ​​(above is one of the larger examples). While they can be armed, their small size limits their usefulness in combat roles, so they are mostly used in support missions for reconnaissance and patrol duties.

RealNetworks has an ongoing relationship with the Air Force. The sUAS project is the company’s latest contract with the military branch. In addition to the drone assignment, the company also received a commission in 2021 to implement its SAFR system to unmanned ground vehicles. Both contracts are part of the USAF’s Small Business Innovation Research program. It also secured two earlier Phase II jobs through the AFWERX program worth $1.9 million.

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