In the event that a terrorist attack has occurred, forensic investigators can pore over the most recent video, using pan, zoom and tilt controls to reconstruct who did what and when. Because the controls are virtual, different regions of a crime scene can feasibly be studied by separate investigative teams simultaneously.
A stitch in real time
Stitching technology isn’t exactly cutting-edge magic. For years creative photographers have used low-cost stitching software to create interesting high-res panoramic images, such as the famous image of the National Mall taken on Inauguration Day 2009. But those are still images, created after the scene was shot with several cameras. ISIS quilts video in real time, while allowing operators to maintain the full field of view, even while a focal point of choice is magnified.
MacDonald says in the commercial world there are many software systems that can automatically identify suspicious activity, but they are proficient only in scarcely populated or unpopulated areas, where it’s easy to spot a lone person leaving a parcel unattended.
“If someone comes and sets a bag down and walks away, these systems will pick that up, but our goal is to do that in highly crowded environments,” he says.
Other ISIS features, many of which are commercially available, are provided by a suite of software applications called video analytics. One app lets operators define restricted areas, for which ISIS provides an alert the moment the area is breached. ISIS is designed for use in any environment where surveillance of large open areas is required.
Another feature lets operators select a specific target, such as a suspicious person, package or pickup. The system then tags the subject and follows it, automatically panning and tilting as needed. Video analytics at high resolution across the universal field of view, coupled with the ability to follow objects against a cluttered background, provides high-quality situational awareness as incidents unfold.
“What we’ve found in the past is the typical security professional watching a bank of monitors has an attention span of about 20 minutes,” MacDonald says. “What we wanted to do is give these professionals a tool that can continuously monitor an area, and then provide operator alerts to abnormal events or locate intruders in off-limits areas.”
Lights, camera, controversy
Many of these surveillance advances are troubling to those as interested in preserving freedom and civil liberties as they are in combating crime or detecting terrorists. They believe government dragnet surveillance activities are not directed solely at suspected terrorists and criminals, but they are instead directed at everyone, and therefore tend to erode the right to privacy and the freedoms of speech, association and religion.
The ACLU website states that “increasingly, the government is engaged in warrantless surveillance that vacuums up sensitive information about innocent people. And this surveillance takes place in secret, with little or no oversight by the courts, by Congress, or by the public.”
Steven Surfaro, Axis Communications’ industry liaison, says “the benefits of public surveillance in crime reduction have been studied and documented extensively and outweigh privacy concerns, as long as best practices are adhered to.”
Surfaro says any erosion of privacy or civil liberty in video surveillance are overcome when a system is designed and used according to established best practices.
ISIS Spiral 2
The ISIS Spiral 1 system installed at Logan International has worked well enough to be exhibited to visiting representatives of local law enforcement, branches of the military, as well as state and federal homeland security agencies. Several commercial entities with a stake in protecting the nation’s infrastructure have also shown interest.
A second generation prototype of ISIS, called Spiral 2, more than doubles the resolution to 200 megapixels and is currently undergoing operational testing. The results will be used to refine the technology before Spiral 2 is installed at Logan, probably sometime in Spring 2012.
The partnership between Logan International and DHS began in December 2009, allowing potential Homeland Security end-users the opportunity to evaluate ISIS technology. Beyond the potential for enhancing security at the nation’s airports, if successful, the current testing at Logan could pave the way for the eventual deployment of ISIS to protect other critical venues.