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Airport Video Surveillance Goes Hi-Tech 85

Posted by samzenpus
from the just-what-do-you-think-you're-doing-dave dept.
conq writes "BusinessWeek has a piece on new tech used in the airport of Helsinki to monitor behavior and alert people when predefined situations arise. From the article: "The system can alert staff to events which may need further investigation without the need for every camera to be observed by staff. For example, suspect packages or vehicles left unattended will be flagged up and staff alerted. Similarly if the system detects queues growing beyond a pre-defined length in the security zone staff will be alerted of the need to open another lane""
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Airport Video Surveillance Goes Hi-Tech

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  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mingot (665080) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @10:44PM (#15355792)
    Similarly if the system detects queues growing beyond a pre-defined length in the security zone staff will be alerted of the need to open another lane.

    Can't the actual human employees at the head of the line make this determination and alert whomever has the authority to open another lane? Seems like a solution looking for a problem if you ask me.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

      by StikyPad (445176) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @10:54PM (#15355835) Homepage
      Can't the actual human employees at the head of the line make this determination and alert whomever has the authority to open another lane?

      That's not in the job description.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

      by FidelCatsro (861135) * <fidelcatsro AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @05:02AM (#15355901) Journal
      Going by personal experience here, They seem completely unable to know when another line need's opened.
      Even if you ask you them about it or paint a big banner with the word's "OPEN ANOTHER LINE YOU BASTARDS".
      • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Speaking from personal experience here, you are talking out of your arse. Helsinki airport is an order of magnitude more bearable, than, say Manchester or Heathrow here in the UK. The Finns, in general, are a level-headed race and they seem to be able to run things in an orderly fashion. Helsinki airport is clean, I've never found myself short of somewhere to sit and wait, or been too far out of range of the toilets, or, as you kind of suggest, had to stand there in a massive queue whilst staff stand idly a
        • oooh oooh can I play???

          Quick test: What hangs from the ceiling quite prominently in the checked-in waiting area?

          Your balls? As you've clearly got a massive package, which is diverting the blood from your brain, as the parent was quite obviously making a generalized comment with an attempt at humor about airport security lines, and not your precious Helsinki...

    • Can't the actual human employees at the head of the line make this determination and alert whomever has the authority to open another lane?
      That would involve the activity known as "talking to somebody". You clearly don't have much experience dealing with Finns if you think that's going to happen.
      • Re:Huh? (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You clearly don't have much experience dealing with Finns if you think that's going to happen.
        I do though, and, strange as it is, when I talk to Finns, they respond. It's almost as if the nature of communication is exactly the same between English people and Finns as it would be for English people and..any nationality!

        If you are insinuating that they are not predisposed to make idle chatter, I have to agree. But they are still polite and courteous, and wouldn't wantonly ignore you. You weren't wearing s
    • You're assuming they can actually see the end of the queue from where they are (under normal conditions). I've been in plenty of airports where the security checkpoint and the queue for it are largely contained in two separate spaces.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dmatos (232892)
      Can't the actual human employees at the head of the line make this determination and alert whomever has the authority to open another lane?

      Seeing as the standard "pre-defined length" actually stretches over the horizon, beyond the sightlines of the employees working the security station, then no, they can't. This new system enables them to know when they can have another employee earning money, without detracting from the 3-hour experience of waiting in line that we've all come to know and love.

      Just think
    • >Can't the actual human employees at the head of the line make this determination and alert whomever has the authority to open another lane?

      I fly a lot, and from personal ovbservation I can say that the answer to your question is, "No, they can't." There seem to be a number of reasons for this:

      • They don't give a shit. You are not a "customer", and they are not answerable to you in any way. How you feel about the way they treat you does not affect them at all, not in pay, job security, promotion,
    • by Proteus (1926)
      Can't the actual human employees at the head of the line make this determination and alert whomever has the authority to open another lane? Seems like a solution looking for a problem if you ask me.

      Yes, they can do that. But, their core function is to perform the security checks. From a management point of view, if I can have something that tells a supervisor to open another lane without having to distract an employee from that core function, I'll probably pay for it. Just like I'd pay more to have staff
    • You're kidding, right? This would assume that employees at these places have more intelligence than an earthworm. I'm not old enough to know if maybe there was a time when average people were generally smart enough to say "Hey, there's a lot of people in this line. Let's open another one.", but they're definitely not that smart (or motivated) now.

      You can see this nearly every place that has long lines, not just airports.
  • by gooman (709147) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @10:44PM (#15355793) Journal
    ...if the system detects queues growing beyond a pre-defined length in the security zone staff will be alerted of the need to open another lane

    Forget the airport, I want this at my local supermarket!

    • Hell yes!

      I was in the local supermarket today, and I had to stand in line for a good 30 minutes. I stopped a manager 'looking' person and asked them "why the hell was there only 3 tellers open when there are 20 teller stations, and over 45 people standing in line for just the 3 open ones" Her reply was, no one had told her to open another teller to ease the wait.

      "WTF, someone has to tell you, "there are 45 people waiting in line for only three tellers, go open one or two more.", your an
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @10:46PM (#15355803)
    ... when I see a line of 500 densely-packed people waiting to go through an X-ray machine intended to prevent somebody from blowing up a plane loaded with 200 densely-packed people.

    "Security theatre," indeed.
  • it doesn't work (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @10:48PM (#15355810)
    I design security systems just like that one and I know that the video analysis software is not yet good enough to pick out "suspect packages". Sadly, relying on the passengers in the airport or commuters in the rail/subway stations is still the most-effective method of identifying suspect/left packages.
    • I immediately thought "emperor has no clothes" myself. We are not at the level of technological sophistication where this is feasible.

      This will actually create morework because the "terra sentinels" will quickly realize the system is useless, but will be compelled by their boss to investigate every blip in addition to their current duties.
    • Re:it doesn't work (Score:3, Insightful)

      by foundme (897346)
      Your statement just raised another security problem -- As public are made known of these High-Tech-Knows-It-All cameras, they might be relying more on these for protection, rather than the good-old common sense.

      TouristA: Hmm... that suitcase over there has been left alone for a while
      TouristB: Don't worry, I'm sure it'll be picked up soon by the security camera.
    • I design security systems just like that one and I know that the video analysis software is not yet good enough to pick out "suspect packages"
      I do some work with image recognition (AR) and I don't see big problem here. You may not get 100% rate identification, but the rate will be pretty high. The camera have fixed position. So first make screenshot of empty area with markers put on it, and you have static background together with depth map. After that you can pick any unmoving object on this background
      • But I wouldn't quite trust such a system. This system could be intentionally gamed (decoys, overflowing system with false alarms, etc) while creating false sense of security.

        To work better, the system shouldn't rely only on static data, someday it will have enough capacity to identify when a person leaves a package behind. Otherwise, the system is susceptible to something the military have known for a long time: camouflage. Have a package painted in the same color and shade as the background and it will be

      • Re:it doesn't work (Score:3, Insightful)

        by old man moss (863461)
        "I don't see big problem here."

        How about: lighting changes (sun comes out / goes in), shadows cast by passing objects, reflections from moving objects, camera auto-gain triggered by scene composition changes, camera noise, white-out.

        Big problem. You can make it work some of the time...

        • How about: lighting changes (sun comes out / goes in), shadows cast by passing objects, reflections from moving objects, camera auto-gain triggered by scene composition changes,

          I'm dealing with it on the frigging cellphone with camera, adaptive thresholding work wonder. With powerfull PC, smoothing filters, color transformations that not a problem at all.
    • I dont doubt your credentials, but I think that if a camera was fixed, and if the software has an impression of what the empty airport terminal looks like in varying lighting conditions, then a single blob that ran against that impression and that didn't move shouldn't be completely beyond software to analyse. Especially if the cameras were able to work in stereo (one in the NE corner, the other in the SW corner of a building - then an unmoving shape that doesn't look like an empty portion of the room woul
  • Unattended (Score:4, Interesting)

    by foundme (897346) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @10:48PM (#15355813) Homepage
    I wonder how it detects an unattended package. If said package is left in a crowded area, will the system be confused that such package is still being "attended" by moving traffic?
    • Re:Unattended (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TMarvelous (928161)
      I live in NYC and last year the MTA, the group that operates the subways, revealed video to the new of it's planned security system and it does exactly that. Every object that is moving in the video frame is "boxed" like a military targeting computer. In their demonstration, any time one of those moving boxes stops for more than a second or two the box turns red and alerts are sent to whoever is programmed to receive them. In the video a person walks into a subway station with a briefcase (which is separ
  • by mswope (242988) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @10:54PM (#15355838) Journal
    "Similarly if the system detects queues growing beyond a pre-defined length in the security zone staff will be alerted of the need to open another lane"

    Mondays incur serious bottlenecks here at IAH Terminal C (Houston). The security staff seems stymied by their limited empowerment to work the crowd. Often, the line extends out the door, and sometimes into traffic. In fact, it's often more expedient (though no less "secure") to check into a different terminal altogether, then walk or take a tram to Terminal C's gates. The idea that we could open several lines seems beyond the security personnel.

    The odd thing to me is that this airport seems the *least* offensive of several majors. Perhaps it's just my familiarity with Houston's particular brand of inefficiency.

    I know that the security measures in most were put in place *after* 9-11; therefore, they didn't benefit from any really modern analysis of their security methods (Denver is the most egregious that I've found, to date). However, true to "government droid" stereotypes, the people manning the lines can't seem to think adaptively *and* provide equivalent security.

    Ah well, getting to the airport 2 hours early is supposed to be relaxing, somehow....
  • by Rekolitus (899752) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @11:05PM (#15355892)

    In the UK over the past few years there've been various rights-eroding laws put in place (e.g. warrantless searches and arrests if they suspect you're a terrorist), and then this happened [guardian.co.uk].

    What worries me is that the security staff are going to blindly believe the computer's "this is suspicious", causing the person huge inconvenience despite any actual evidence of him being a terrorist on his person. See the link - just because someone matched enough random, minor items on (presumably) some sort of mental checklist in the security staff's head, they put him through huge inconvenience, arrested him, searched his house, took his cellphone's SIM card, took computers from his home, all without a warrant, simply because they had enough things crossed off to be able to mark him as "suspicious" (and thus use the Terrorism Act), despite there being absolutely no proof on his person.

    If this gets done, thus moving the mental checklist into the computer, I can only hope there WILL be regular false positives (so that the security staff take it with a pinch of salt and use it as a guideline only), else they might suspect people unduly despite there being no cause for suspicion other than "the computer says so".

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I know of one security system where it just has a picture of a room and then when the camera is on it just looks for things that don't match the original, if those areas of non-matching do not move for more than X amount of time the system then draws a yellow outline around the object, if it still does not move in another X amount of time, the outline becomes red. The system is pretty good and adapts to furniture/plants being moved around by staff. Myself and others even joked about the cheese factor of usi
    • I'd be more impressed if they had a system that could scan and tag/match all faces/voices that it sees and hears in an airport.

      Hell, I'd be impressed if they had a system that didn't lose luggage.

      As for matching faces to voices in the airport, who really wants their conversations overheard by some lackey in a monitoring room?

  • by slipangle (859826) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:10AM (#15356505)
    ...once these cameras are connected to Skynet.
  • Sounds like Airport Extreme, eh ?

  • MDI Security Systems out of San Antonio, TX has something like this called SenseEye VMD [mdisecure.com], but it does 3D analysis using two camera feeds to reduce false positives. Makes it so someone can't just stand in front of an object to obscure it from the software or having a bug land on the camera lense causing mass hysteria. All in all, pretty cool stuff.
  • by Neurotoxic666 (679255) <neurotoxic666@h o t m ail.com> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:05AM (#15357067) Homepage
    I may be a bit paranoid here, but I think it opens the door to a telescreen-like technology. The main problem in Nineteen Eighty-Four with the telescreen was that humans had to watch the two-way screens. So as a citizen, you may assume that maybe, no one is watching at this moment.

    Now, if the technology is tried, tested and improved enough, why not put 'em everywhere. You know, juste like in London, to prevent crimes. Then vote some laws that says doing this or that is terrorist-like and then illegal. Then arrest more people.

    Yeah, I'm stretching it. But you know, when the technology's there, available and working, there is no reason not to use it. Then you can mix techs and end up with nicer cocktails. Like an "ID tag canon" that shoots a tiny RFID tag on someone when the camera decides he looks suspicious -- it'll be easy to follow him. Then you bust his ass when he gets home and hope to find some pot or porn.

    Ok, ok. Sci-fi gibberish. But still, if *I* can think of this, I'm sure many others can come up with worse than that. And apply it.

    • Yeah, you are right... it is just another move toward big brother watching over us.

      I hate the way society seems to be moving towards regular surveillance. (As if we haven't already arrived).

      You would think, (but then who the hell am I kidding) that these sci-fi books and movies WARNING us / society about things such as this would not be the moves the government would make. Wouldn't they see that in the long run it would not be in their or our best interest? Don't those stupid government officials realize th
  • by gone.fishing (213219) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @11:39AM (#15357772) Journal
    Several years ago I spoke with a friend of mine who went to work in the security department of a major retailer as a programmer. The project that he was working on was to design a system that would detect motions that would identify shoplifters, thieves, and other bad guys (like thieving employees). They used things like furtive movements and a person's route through the store to trigger the system that would sound the alarm and bring the camera online to a security officer. They used hundreds of hours of security video showing crooks doing their work to vet the system and they had it working pretty well. I would imagine that this is a system similar to what they are doing at the airport.

    He did share some humorous observations about this work. The system would frequently target completely innocent little old ladies as potential shoplifters. Apparently their movements while on a routine shopping trip were quite similar to a crooks and the system was not able to differentiate between them.
    • Hum. I think you show yourself to be overly naive and to have held on to some of your illusions with this bit:

      The system would frequently target completely innocent little old ladies
      Believe me, there are no innocent little old ladies ! They are all guilty ! The system doesn't lie ! George Bush has built a gulag specially for little old ladies ! Trust George to see the truth ! Believe the system !
  • this is just one aspect of digital surveillance that has been publically mentioned. but there are systems being built that can zoom in on faces and take pictures. region-of-interest, motion activation, variable frame rate capture, target tracking and a multitude of other feature-sets are becoming standard in today's technology.

    imagine what'll happen if all of this gets merged with something like http://riya.com/ [riya.com]'s technology. we'd have automatic person recognition. techology is racing ahead really fast.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've used this system (not at any airport). It is from Object Video http://www.objectvideo.com/ [objectvideo.com]. Its pretty good at knowing how long people stand around, and which way they are walking. Keeping track of "abandoned" packages is far tougher. But security people staring at 100 video monitors are notoriously bad at seeing things. Airports have a huge amount of space they 'need' to monitor. Cameras cost $10,000 apiece, so don't expect to see them in useful places, like in Safeway, any time soon.

    I have to post

    • Goody for you ! I noticed this bit

      I have to post anonymously because I work in this field.
      and wondered if you used the cameras to monitor cows or sheep.

      Might be nice if the system could alert the security people to people who forgot to wash, are drunk, talk too much...etc. Perhaps you can do something to help the average air traveller ! Thanks in advance.

  • Video content analytics can be useful at airports... Ive recently been working on such a system at a busy US airport. In practicality, alot of the algorithms mentioned here are not useful. Walk into a busy airport any day of the week and you can count dozens of travellers leaving objects unattended. Also, if I were leaving a package with a bomb in it at an airport, I'd put it in a garbage can or underneath something. VCA would miss that. I've found the more useful algorithms are people/vehicles enterin

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