Reporter 417, 23 March 1998

'Thinking' cameras put focus on car crime

Monitoring television screens which show footage of car parks can be a pretty mind-numbing task. But the car park security guards of the future might even be able to fall asleep on the job, safe in the knowledge that they will be woken if anything suspicious happens.

A new computer system being developed jointly by the University of Leeds with the University of Reading will detect unusual behaviour in a car park. If somebody loiters too long, or moves from car to car suspiciously, then an alarm will go off in the control room, prompting a guard to study a particular monitor.

Professor David Hogg, of the School of Computer Studies, explains: "This system will allow one security guard to monitor, say, 100 screens. That would otherwise be impossible, you'd probably fall asleep. The computer will do the drudgery of monitoring the car park."

The project, which has been running for two-and-a-half years, builds on 'machine vision' technology which uses active shape models to track moving objects and make sense of video signals.

"By observing car parks over a long period of time we have built models of typical behaviour and typical movements," says Professor Hogg. "So, if somebody comes along and does something atypical, it will sound an alarm and a guard can investigate." The technology is still three or four years away from practical use.

In Leeds, Research Fellow Dr Richard Morris has developed a 'person tracker', a way of enabling the computer to distinguish between people and cars or animals. In addition to the two universities, partners include BAA plc and the Home Office.

· Meanwhile, 60 families around the country have agreed to surveillance cameras being hidden inside household objects such as teddy bears and cocoa tins. The idea of the 'hidden cameras' is that they will hopefully make family members less self-conscious. The research project by the University's Institute of Communications Studies is designed to observe how technology is changing the way we live.

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