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Of personal interest – Stanley A. White’s and Richard Reneau’s accounts of the beginnings of Printrak

This post is primarily of personal interest to me, but it’s my blog so nyah nyah.

The IEEE has published an oral history from Stanley A. White, who joined Autonetics, left to go to college, and then returned and stayed on after the company became part of Rockwell. While he stayed with Rockwell in the 1980s when the “Printrak” portion was sold to De La Rue, White was there for the beginnings of what would become Printrak (the company that I joined in the mid-1990s that is now part of MorphoTrak, where I still work).

Here’s the relevant excerpt:

White:

We used to joke that necessity is the mother of invention, assumption is the mother of screw-ups, and Autonetics is the mother of reorganization. I was eager to see what lay ahead when in 1972 opportunity beckoned again. The Electronics Research Center offered me the challenge of establishing a new Digital Systems Research Group within the Information Sciences Branch of the Advanced Technology (AT) Department. I was appointed Group Scientist of Digital Systems, rounded up some tried and proven performers and we were off and running.

AT contained an intense concentration of genius and was headed by Dr. Dick Gudmundsen, a world renowned laser physicist and all-round good guy. A component organization of AT, Information Sciences, was headed by Dr. Visvaldis Vitols, known as V2. Three incredibly talented senior staff members who worked for V2 were Dr. Art Rabinowitz, a speech-recognition expert, and two extraordinarily sharp EEs, Dr. John Riganati and Dr. Jim Paul. The Information Sciences senior staff was then further strengthened with the addition of DSP expert Dr. Tien Lin Chang and image-processing expert Dr. Dave Hench. Information Sciences had picked up the DSP (digital-signal-processing) responsibility for much of the company. We were in the midst of speech (Jim) and image (everybody) processing, encoding, implementation, and support for the radar (me) and sonar (V2 and me) shops. Jim had developed a real-time adaptive filter for speech filtering based on the TRW MAC chip. He did the complete design down to the pin-outs over Christmas vacation, and quickly brought a product line (ADAP 256 and ADAP 1024) to market in record time. ADAPs became very popular with law-enforcement agencies for cleaning up recordings of jail-house confessions and the like.

Our biggest contract was the FBI Automated Fingerprint Reader System. For a while it seemed to absorb the entire staff of Info Sciences.

Nebeker:

Did you keep track of what happened to these people?

White:

Jim quit and founded his own Virginia-based company that now designs and manufactures digital adaptive signal processors for law-enforcement agencies. John became a Bureau Chief at the former National Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Tien-Lin died of brain cancer. Dave still works in image processing, currently for the Air Force at Rome NY. Art stayed with the fingerprint reader that was bought by Printrax, and V2 retired.

Incidentally, I found Rabinowitz on LinkedIn; he left Printrak several years before I arrived. Riganati and Vitols are cited in early Rockwell fingerprint patents such as this one.

Incidentally, there’s another account from Richard Reneau that takes the story farther back, into the 1960s:

The FBI then narrowed the choices to digital imaging developments. In 1967, contracts were awarded to Coronell Aeronautical Laboratories Inc. (which became Calspan Corp. and later, wasn’t heard from much) and Autonetics Group of Rockwell International Corp. (which was sold to Dalarue of London, sold to a management group, sold to Motorola, sold to Morpho) for engineering. Significant results were obtained by 1969 and further developments proceeded (development costs from 1971-1977 were a mere $21,535,700, by current spending standards a real bargain).

There’s a lot of detail in the account, including this observation (timely because “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez recently passed away):

What is very interesting to note from the old guy’s perspective is that much of the early “sales” of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) centered around “hits” made from searching latent prints in the system. AFIS capabilities as a crime fighting tool quickly overshadowed its speed and accuracy of the ten-print searching and identification abilities. The latent print function of the “Big four” quickly captured the public’s attention on the news. For example, one of these political sausages was the direct result of the automated systems “hit” of the “Night stalker” case. It was all about getting your own stand alone system at that point.

A central discussion I recall at the time was whether we should let the crime fighting capability take the lead — won’t wide-spread publicity cause the criminal to stop leaving prints at the crime scenes. Since the release of fingerprint information hasn’t stopped the criminal in the last 100 years, it probably won’t stop now, we opined. How right we were –backlogs are still growing.

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