A Bradford University researcher is now the joint head of a cutting-edge project which aims to increase border security by developing a computer that can detect guilt.

Dr Hassan Ugail, head of visual computing research at the university’s School of Informatics, has been selected to join an elite team set to begin work on the £500,000 scheme to develop technology capable of assisting border control agencies by identifying people trying to smuggle drugs or goods through customs.

Dr Ugail said: “What we are proposing to develop is essentially a passive lie detector. We aim to analyse people’s facial expressions and eye movements in response to a series of questions through video images and computer-based intelligent algorithms.

“For example, trained officers at the border control points are very good in spotting people carrying contraband by analysing facial expressions, but it is tricky to teach a machine to do this.”

The two-year project, which will begin in December, will see Dr Ugail work alongside Dr Reyer Zwiggelaar of the University of Aberystwyth.

The research team will collaborate with the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs and international defence and security technology company QinetiQ.

Dr Ugail will use a technique called real-time dynamic passive profiling to develop the technology to make the project a success. It is able to pick up facial expressions and eye movement, both visually and thermally.

Once such traits have been identified, they can be linked to physiological processes, including blood flow, eye movement patterns and pupil dilation, which can indicate malicious intent.

“The main aim of the project is to develop technology that can profile people as they pass through border controls,” said Dr Ugail.

“The ideal outcome would be to increase identification of smugglers and decrease the amount of contraband and drugs entering the UK.”

If successful, the project could have other uses including helping police interviews and interrogations.