FBI seeking better automatic tattoo recognition tech

Police photograph and manually tag suspects' tattoos as part of the booking process, but the FBI says computers could classify them much better, leading to more "hits" when trying to identify criminals and also corpses.

For example, one person could label the Detroit Tigers' "D" logo as the team emblem while another might think it's just a stylized "D." So the FBI and the National Institute of Standards and Technology challenged R&D organizations to work on better image recognition systems optimized for tattoos. IEEE Spectrum reports on the results:


In June, the six groups (that participated in the challenge) reported on how well their algorithms performed in five different types of searches. The algorithms did well in three of these searches, achieving success rates of 90 percent and above in detecting whether a given image contained a tattoo; identifying the same tattoo on the same person, over a span of time; and identifying a small segment of a larger tattoo.

The algorithms performed poorly—with hit rates as low as 15 percent—at two tasks: identifying visually similar tattoos on different people, and searching for similar tattoos across a variety of media, including sketches, scanned prints, and computer graphics.

The tattoo image algorithms are similar to those used in facial and other image-recognition technologies, says Anil K. Jain, a professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University, which licensed an algorithm developed by its researchers to MorphoTrak three years ago. The algorithms are all based on extracting key points in an image. However, where fingerprints have ridges and valleys, and faces have eyes and noses, tattoos have no standard features to identify and compare, he says.

"FBI Wants Better Automated Image Analysis for Tattoos" (IEEE Spectrum)