Interview: Booz Allen Hamilton’s Jonathan Levitt on the VAMPIRE
12 May 2015 15:41 GMT

By Craig Guthrie, deputy editor

While mobile fingerprint scanners that provide fast identification have been a feature in law enforcement for a number of years, until now accurate and timely analysis of latent fingerprints had proved elusive.

Launched late last year, Booz Allen Hamilton’s biometric VAMPIRE device aims an integrated 8-megapixel camera and forensic light sources at the problem.

Because the device’s hardware digitally captures latent fingerprint images directly, lifting tape is not required. This means that prints are less likely to be damaged or lost as part of the gathering process.

VAMPIRE can also check the identities of live subjects through an integrated mobile fingerprint sensor. Because these can then be matched either with remote watchlists or latent prints –crimes could be solved before the perp is even booked.

Planet Biometrics talked to Jonathan Levitt, a lead associate with BAH, about the device’s development history and its capabilities.

The VAMPIRE device has interesting onsite, real-time mobile forensic collection, analysis, and identification capabilities, but before we cover that, can you tell us why it was so named?

One of the distinguishing features of the VAMPIRE is automatic image scaling.  To achieve this we project two lasers onto the sample separated by one inch.  While it never appeared to us, our first user focus groups joked that the separated red lasers look like a VAMPIRE bite. The next day our engineering team named each prototype with VAMPIRE names -- Dracula, Orlok, and Eddie.

The VAMPIRE name was then born.  As we made more prototypes, the team kept coming up with new VAMPIRE names.  Once we went to production, we conformed to standard serial numbers.  It was good timing, after three revisions of operational prototypes we were strapped for finding new VAMPIRE names.

Can you give us some insight to how the development process is shaped in terms of collaboration with law enforcement and military officials?

VAMPIRE is a product that was built in direct response to a critical gap that we experienced with our clients: the ability to collect, triage, and generate real-time intelligence from forensic environments. 

Supporting the Department of Defense in biometrics since 1994, our team not only understands the mission, but we ourselves are comprised of numerous former personnel who have directly supported forensics activities in the field.  The process of collaboration was natural for us as we support a law enforcement and defence agencies every day developing new techniques for human identification and forensic analysis.   

From day one of VAMPIRE development, we took every novel concept and engaged end users to weigh in on how it would help the field operators.  We produced numerous rounds of concepts with the sole purpose to solicit feedback and strive to adapt functionality to meet the capability needs. 

Through this feedback cycle of produce, evaluate, and improve, we were able to develop a product that met the needs of various groups from deployed personnel, law enforcement, and forensic analysts.  And let’s be clear: the operating environments are constantly changing and so will we, continuing to adapt the VAMPIRE capabilities and functionality to meet future needs.

In terms of developing a device that has to be extremely rugged and fully mobile, which presented the greater challenge?

When we developed VAMPIRE, we knew we would be challenged by the competing balance between mobility and durability. From the early stages of development, we had a target size. The challenge was drawing the line of functionality to allow for durability on a portable unit. That is never an easy decision and frankly, not a decision to be made in a lab. This was one of the top items that our end-user community passionately weighed in on.  The operators spoke and we listened.

Can you explain how the Rapid Prototyping team and SIG’s structure helped achieve quick progress for this product?

Booz Allen’s Rapid Prototyping capability enables allows us to quickly visualize and assess our creative solutions.  Within this team sits a number of engineers with skills ranging from fingerprint recognition algorithm development, mobile development, optical design, hardware design and more. 

Having the ability quickly design a product, develop the software, and get it in hands of the operator for feedback was essential for the development of VAMPIRE.  The Rapid Prototyping capability is a machine that we used to generate new hardware, software, and functional prototypes within multiple hours compared to traditional development and fabrication over days or weeks.

What are some of the benefits of real-time fingerprint analysis?

The benefit of real-time fingerprint analysis it the ability to obtain actionable data while still in the field.  Currently, forensic teams dust for fingerprints, lift fingerprints and send them back to the lab for analysis.  Depending on the priority, it may be days, weeks, or even months before they get results.

VAMPIRE is not meant to replace the established forensic and lab processes, rather give rapid information to the lab examiners and operators. An investigator can dust for prints and match to a known identify within a minute. VAMPIRE allows users to quickly exclude or implicate suspects at a scene based on latent fingerprints. Even without prior subject identification, VAMPIRE can identify latent prints that have been found at multiple scenes linking seemingly unrelated crimes.

Also can you mention an overview of what other forensic and biometric innovations that Booz Allen is working on?

We deliver biometric collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination tools and training for today’s high priority identification intelligence mission needs. We are developing biometric techniques and technologies that are portable, can be used by non-experts, and provide much quicker results. 

We use biometrics to answer the hard questions - Tactical Forensic Systems (who was here?), Biometric and Forensic Intelligence Case Management (what do we know?), Remote Human Identification (who is that?), Biometric Security Engineering and Identity Protection (is the data reliable?), Biometrics and Identity Intelligence Analytics (what else can we determine?).

Biomedical Engineer and Senior Lead Scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, Jonathan Levitt develops cutting-edge technology and strategic capabilities for the government’s most critical missions. Jonathan has directed the planning and coordination of the technical approach for hardware and software developments for numerous products supporting the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community.