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Facial recognition and other types of biometric tech have improved significantly in recent years, but even today’s most advanced systems become less reliable without a crystal clear view of their subject. Even when the person is standing nearby and looking directly into the camera, facial recognition tech can be prone to errors. 

US intelligence agencies are looking for a technology that would let them rapidly identify people using cameras deployed on far off rooftops and unmanned aircraft. The biometric identification technology will be able to identify people under conditions that are virtually impossible with current technologies. 

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the research arm for the CIA and other intelligence agencies, is trying to gather more extensive training data and create systems that lean on multiple types of data to identify people.

The agency’s Biometric Recognition and Identification at Altitude and Range, or BRIAR program, aims to develop identification tools that work from vantage points high above or far away from their subjects. The tech it seeks to develop could improve the government’s ability to surveil adversaries — and citizens — using biometric data.

IARPA asked for images of individuals taken from more than 300 meters away or at pitch angles above 20 degrees, as well as biometric research datasets captured by drones and other aircraft.

“Further research in the area of biometric recognition and identification at altitude and range may support protection of critical infrastructure and transportation facilities, military force protection and border security,” officials wrote in the request for information.

In the request for information, IARPA asked teams for a wide variety of datasets that could help train biometric technology to work in less than ideal conditions. Today, the range of facial recognition and other identification systems is limited by a lack of training data, they said, and more datasets would help researchers build more versatile and powerful tools.

The program also aims to explore technologies that take in multiple types of biometric identifiers — such as face images, movement patterns, height and gender — instead of relying on a single data point, according to 

Building this composite image a subject would allow systems to accurately identify individuals even if certain data points aren’t the best quality. “Imagery captured at long-range or altitude may also require that additional biometric signatures be fused with face recognition to provide the necessary accuracy or confidence to be usable for person identification,” officials said. “The fusion of multiple biometric signatures to address these limitations remains underserved by the research community.”