Big Brother gets a new pair of glasses

Closed-circuit video surveillance systems usually involve nothing more than security personnel watching a bank of monitors that display realtime video from cameras positioned elsewhere on gamblers at casino tables, travelers winding through endless...


Closed-circuit video surveillance systems usually involve nothing more than security personnel watching a bank of monitors that display realtime video from cameras positioned elsewhere on gamblers at casino tables, travelers winding through endless lines at airport security checks, or the commotion at Occupy movement protests.

It’s a tedious, monotonous job. Most operators have an attention span of less than 30 minutes. Then their minds wander; their eyes may be open but their mind is at the ball game or the movies or already at lunch. There’s a reasonable chance they won’t notice the satchel left unattended by the propane tanks or a suspected terrorist trying to blend in with the crowd.

What if the video camera was “smarter” than the operator in the sense that it could stitch the images from a dozen cameras to one monitor instead of 12 and detect aberrant behavior or unusual, threatening activity? What if the camera was smart enough to know that there should never be an unattended satchel left near the propane tanks, and that when it “sees” a package or suitcase where it logically shouldn’t be it would automatically notify the operator through some alerting mechanism?

There’s a smart camera like that at Boston’s Logan International Airport right now, bolted to the ceiling of Terminal A.

Big Brother’s new eyes

Smart cameras, based on video analytic technology, are emerging in various security venues. One smart camera security system has been watching passengers at Logan International for the past year or so. It’s a test to see if the system performs as designed.

The new video security surveillance system, named Imaging System for Immersive Surveillance, or ISIS, was conceived at the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and launched by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. The version installed at Logan, called Spiral 1, sees the entire concourse like a large fisheye lens, but that’s where the similarity with most conventional surveillance systems ends.

This cutting edge technology is years ahead of the current commercial offerings, according to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

Whereas a typical fisheye lens distorts the image and can only provide limited resolution, ISIS video is perfectly detailed from edge-to-edge. That’s because the video is made from a series of individual cameras stitched into a single, live view, like a high-res video quilt.

“Wide-area views generated by typical closed-circuit television systems are often chopped up into different monitors, so the security professional has to look at a bunch of different screens to get overall perspective,” says PNNL’s Doug MacDonald, ISIS project manager. “With ISIS, everything is now displayed on one large monitor.”

Capturing finely detailed, sweeping coverage requires an extremely high pixel count. ISIS has a resolution capability of 100 megapixels. That’s as detailed as 50 full-HDTV movies playing at once, with optical detail to spare. ISIS also has a zooming capability for getting up close and personal without losing clarity.

Each operator works independently with his or her own monitor and has access to any part of the 360-degree coverage. Further, each operator can review realtime video or access archive video taken moments or days before without affecting the operational performance of the system. Operators are able to use monitors at their desks, typically 24-inch flat screens, but at the same time have access to clear, high-resolution video never before provided. ISIS can see clearly up to 160 yards away.

When officials need to identify a suspect from among the throngs of passengers mulling about the airport, ISIS provides a clear enough image that operation of the entire terminal would not have to be interrupted.

This content continues onto the next page...
  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.