U.K.'s ubiquitous camera network to be made smarter

Published 24 September 2009

U.K. researchers develop behavioral recognition software which will focus CCTVs in public places — and on public transportation — on people behaving in a suspicious or odd manner; developers say their software would have spotted a man carrying a samurai sword to a bus in Leeds — which he used to attack the bus driver

The United Kingdom, known as the Surveillance Society, leads the world in CCTV per capita. It appears that just to make sure that no other country even comes close, the government of this most CCTV-surveilled nation in the world is toying ore surveillance technology.

Paul Marks writes that this what engineers at the shiny new Center for Secure Information Technologies in Belfast, Northern Ireland, say. The center is dedicated to investigating technologies that improve personal security — whether this is out in the street or online.

One focus is improving security on Britain’s buses using software that predicts violent behaviour from what is captured on the CCTV now common on the vehicles. “Despite massive investment in CCTV, the impact on antisocial and criminal behavior is negligible because very little video is ever analyzed,” says CSIT director Paul Miller. “So we’re trying to find a set of behavioral events that will allow CCTV to become active and alert operators to potential trouble.”

Audio of people shouting at the driver and video of them loitering on the stairs of a double decker, or causing other people to move seats, could trigger an alert to be sent to a local police, for example. This kind of research is a busy research area, and New Scientist, for example, has written before about attempts to have cameras recognize violence or possible suicide attempts. The latter is in use on London’s underground train network.

Marks writes that it is all too easy to take a snarky view of this kind of encroaching surveillance technology, but pity the poor bus driver. In Leeds, Yorkshire, for instance, the Health and Safety Executive reports bus drivers being threatened with knives, air guns, fireworks — and even samurai swords. CSIT’s on the case there, too: another input to its smart alerting system will be a metal detector concealed in the bus door frame.