WVU at Twins Days
WVU student researchers at the Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio

For the fifth year in a row, a team of West Virginia University students trekked to Twinsburg, Ohio, for its Twins Days Festival, the largest annual gathering of twins and multiples in the world. This year, the biometrics collection lab introduced audio and video data collection to their process.

“Automated voice recognition is emerging as a biometric method. There has been little-to-no research performed on how similar twins’ voices are,” explained Jeremy Dawson, research assistant professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

In order to ensure quality data was collected, portable sound isolation rooms were set up on site that eliminated almost all background noise. Casey Norville, a senior biometric systems and computer engineering major from Newport News, Virginia, manned this station.

“These are much more efficient collection wise. All you could hear was the participant,” said Norville. “This was a really cool hands-on, real world application of biometric science.”

Twins Days provides the researchers with the unique opportunity to not only collect a large amount of data but also from a rare sample of the population.

On a typical day at their lab at WVU, student researchers will collect fingerprints, facial photos, and audio and video recordings. At Twins Days, these stations are brought outdoors for 10 hours daily and the students must adjust to the changing conditions at a rapid pace.

“Twins Days allows us to build large datasets that contain things such as facial images that would be considered challenging in typical biometric applications and scenarios,” said Dawson. Seth Leffel, a graduate student in mechanical engineering from Parkersburg, has worked in the Center for Identification Technology Research lab at WVU for three year and says the most challenging part about Twins Days was expediting the collection process and keeping the data pristine.

“The Twins Days collection is similar to what we do at WVU, but our challenge is that we run through a lot more people. What we collect in two months in our lab, we collect in a weekend at Twins Days,” said Leffel, who earned his bachelor’s degree from WVU in 2013.

“Maintaining an efficient collection station operation while dealing with a changing environment really makes the students think on their feet,” said Dawson. “The students learn so much more from these experiences than they ever could in a classroom or lab.”

In addition to the experience of field work, the students also worked alongside FBI personnel, which offers them a great networking opportunity. The biometrics collection lab not only conducts research with its data, but also acts as a test lab for new biometric equipment or collection techniques. WVU is the lead academic partner for the FBI in biometrics research.

“It’s really cool to be able to work so closely with the FBI,” said Leffel. “They typically enjoy being there and they were very helpful in answering any questions we had about the biometrics career field.”

“Being at Twins Days brings recognition to WVU,” said Norville. “People come from all around the country and world and they stop by the WVU biometrics collection tent and see us. It helps us put our name on the forefront.”