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December 2001 / January 2002 Cover

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The Camera Never Blinks


The Camera Never Blinks
New technology being developed at UMaine could help in stepped-up building security efforts

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Walk into a bank, government building or your favorite retail store and chances are they're there. Watching. Waiting to record your every move.

Security video cameras provide an unblinking record of people's activities hour after hour, day after day. But it takes a person on the other end of the camera to monitor, analyze and interpret the images, and then alert safety personnel or law enforcement officials in the event of a threat or an emergency.

But what if technology could automatically analyze security video taken outside busy facilities such as Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building or inside Boston's Logan Airport, allowing authorities to be alerted instantly to safety concerns? At The University of Maine, a research team led by scientists in the Department of Spatial Information Science and Engineering (SIE) is developing new automated image analysis techniques. The work is funded by a half-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Peggy Agouris
Peggy Agouris, associate professor
and researcher in the University's National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis.

Peggy Agouris, associate professor and researcher in the University's National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, leads the project with two other UMaine faculty members, Anthony Stefanidis and Kate Beard. Agouris came to UMaine in 1995 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.

The scientists are collaborating with faculty members at the University of California at Riverside and Penn State University to harness the volumes of data collected constantly by satellites, autonomously operated vehicles, video cameras and other devices.

The objective is to automatically extract information from digital and video image sequences, and detect changes in behavior patterns without relying on one or more people to do the work.

"Things change over time, and this change is inherent in the data set," says Agouris, who heads SIE's Digital Image Processing and Analysis Laboratory. "Our goal is to develop a means to make this change explicit and to communicate it to the people who are interested in this information. This is not just about detecting the change. It is about developing (an analytical) framework that is independent of peoples' views as to what changes."

Such new technology could not only analyze ongoing security video but also could squeeze more information out of images collected in the past for military and civilian purposes.

Beyond the security benefits, the automated image analysis technology has implications for traffic management, agricultural assessments, land- use planning and environmental monitoring.

In addition, automated techniques could be used in response to disasters such as the World Trade Center tragedy, Agouris says. By considering locations and designs of buildings, and the effect of their collapse, engineers and architects could better understand the risks associated with densely developed urban areas.

Agouris and her UMaine colleagues soon will be expanding their image management research with a newly funded $1.5 million multi-year NSF grant. In that project, scientists will develop the foundation for a type of "geospatial Internet" that will contribute to making accurate geospatial information accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

by Nick Houtman
December, 2001/January, 2002

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