Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Security Cameras Get Smart

By Stephen Luntz

New security cameras will enable overstretched security staff to better focus their real-time surveillance.

The proliferation of closed circuit television cameras has meant that most of them are left unmonitored for much of the time. Curtin University and iCetana Pty Ltd have developed an answer to this – a program capable of learning what is normal for a particular camera site, and alerting an operator when something unusual happens.

“Existing video analytics systems require the customer to define the events of interest in advance,” says Prof Svetha Venkatesh of Curtin’s Institute of Multisensor Processing and Content Analysis. This can be an exceptionally arduous task.

Instead, her program has a learning phase where it watches the site for a time and learns what is normal. “It identifies events of interest which may never have been foreseen by the user, and can alert security officers to their occurrence in real time,” Venkatesh says. Of course, what is “normal” is different for each location.

Venkatesh says that each camera has two modes – day and night. If an event occurs that is unusual for the relevant mode of a particular camera, an alert will be sent to an operator who can decide if further action is required. In this way the operator can keep an eye on hundreds of cameras at once.

The program has been successfully tested near Curtin’s Belmont campus for 6 months, with what the developers call “very encouraging results”.

“Using this software, overstretched and understaffed security staff will be able to better focus their real-time surveillance of locations of interest,” says interim iCetana CEO Matthew Macfarlane.

While the method of identification of unusual behaviour is new, the program only detects movement, in contrast to other Australian CCTV software that instead looks out for things that do not move, including possible bomb threats (AS, August 2005, p.4).

Venkatesh does not believe the software should add to privacy concerns regarding the increased use of surveillance as it adds to the efficiency of the system and “the cameras are there anyway”.