Smart cameras to tackle abandoned-luggage alarms
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Date posted: 12/05/2007
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If a suitcase is abandoned in a corner and left in the terminal of a hectic airport, security usually panics. Was it planted by a bomber or carelessly left for a couple of minutes while the owner went to buy coffee?

Now, French group Sagem Defense Securite, a unit of the defence and aerospace conglomerate Safran Group think they have researched a solution to this headache ? intelligent security cameras.

Relying on machine vision and analytical algorithm, the video camera computers analyse their own video images to look for suspicious patterns or trends.

"The idea is to automatically analyse and intelligently filter all of that video, but also to add a next level of intelligence," said James Ferryman, a specialist in "computational vision" at the University of Reading in England.

"We're talking about smart cameras which go to the next level of proactive detection."

Funded by the European Union, the two-year, $3.11 million project involved 10 European companies and research institutes and is known as ISCAPS (Integrated Surveillance of Crowded Areas for Public Security).

It focused on several key threats: abandoned bags; erratic movements or loitering by individuals; suspicious vehicle movements; and "drop dead scenarios" in which people fall to the ground, possibly affected by smoke or some kind of attack.

They set up cameras to monitor public areas over weeks or months, enabling the system to build statistical models showing busy and slack times and typical patterns of movement - and then to spot anything that diverges from the pattern.

They stressed that while the system can flag something suspicious, it will still fall to a human operator to make the final call--for example, whether someone is running for a train or sprinting to escape the scene of a crime.

"To fully detect if this person wants to catch a train or it's an anomaly, the decision has to be taken by the person monitoring," said Louis-Marie Cleon, scientific director at French railways SNCF, which took part in the research.

Sagem's Suchier cautioned that the technology was still young and it could take 10 years before robust systems were in place to monitor large crowds reliably for a full range of threats, without triggering excessive false alarms.

But more limited solutions could be introduced much faster to the specific problem of abandoned luggage.

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