Detecting Malintent

How do we identify malintent quickly for rapid and effective security screening?


To build a detector, one must recognize what to detect. Those who conduct terrorist attacks have uncommon motives that are often undetected in advance. The government is challenged to balance allocation of its resources as it faces threats that are rare, yet have high potential consequences. Airport security must thoroughly assess potential hazards while maintaining a quick and convenient pace for the millions of travelers flying in and out of U.S. airports daily. Metal detectors and random swabs target the method of action, but not the person acting. No-fly lists include only the previously identified. Current sensors are reactive; as people come up with new techniques for causing harm, new sensors must be developed to find them. When preventative methods fail, the results can be catastrophic.

Capabilities Used
Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.

Human-Centered Solutions

Draper has continued to advance the understanding and application of human-centered engineering to optimize the interaction and capabilities of the human’s ability to better understand, assimilate and convey information for critical decisions and tasks. Through its Human-Centered Solutions capability, Draper enables accomplishment of users’ most critical missions by seamlessly integrating technology into a user’s workflow. This work leverages human-computer interaction through emerging findings in applied psychophysiology and cognitive neuroscience. Draper has deep skills in the design, development, and deployment of systems to support cognition – for users seated at desks, on the move with mobile devices or maneuvering in the cockpit of vehicles – and collaboration across human-human and human-autonomous teams.

Image & Data Analytics

Draper combines specific domain expertise and knowledge of how to apply the latest analytics techniques to extract meaningful information from raw data to better understand complex, dynamic processes. Our system design approach encompasses effective organization and processing of large data sets, automated analysis using algorithms and exploitation of results. To facilitate user interaction with these processed data sets, Draper applies advanced techniques to automate understanding and correlation of patterns in the data. Draper’s expertise encompasses machine learning (including deep learning), information fusion from diverse and heterogeneous data sources, optimized coupling of data acquisition and analysis and novel methods for analysis of imagery and video data.

Draper approached this problem with Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), which focuses on the human factor as the common denominator in terrorist attacks. FAST focuses on the person, not what they may be carrying, as it leverages objective physiological indicators to assess the likelihood that someone intends to do harm. By posing strategically chosen baseline questions to travelers and measuring physiological responses, such as dilated pupils and skin temperature changes, authorities are better able to determine the corresponding threat risk level and can decide whether or not to perform additional screening. Based on extensive research on physiological and behavioral cues, including heart rate and movement or fidgeting, the machinery differentiates between those with and without malintent. Personal information is erased after each screening, preserving subject privacy and anonymity while respecting individual civil rights/civil liberties.


If implemented successfully, this technology could be used at highly populated events and potentially could assist with border control. Draper has demonstrated the system concept on more than 1,000 subjects in a variety of scenarios and field tests. Preliminary testing has been conducted with consenting subjects at a large sporting venue, yielding positive indicators of effectiveness. Future development would include system improvements to achieve scenario-dependent functionality and improvement of processing time by 200-300 percent.


Technical Contact
Megan Mitchell