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Social Innovation

AI in the Sky

As our cities and public transport systems are busier than ever, discover how smart tech surveillance is keeping us safe as we travel

Nowhere sums up our hectic lives more than the hustle and bustle of the train station. And with some of Europe’s stations having over 99 million journey entries and exit a year, the potential for problems is vast.

We’ve all witnessed the scene. Thousands of people rushing through a station eager to get on the next available train. Everyone is carrying luggage, not sure where they are going and distracted by the departures board. This scene can quickly lead to bottlenecks at ticket barriers, lost baggage and petty crime. Incidents like this play out across a range of public spaces – airports, city centres or entertainment venues. With these issues, and others, often happening concurrently, surveillance cameras can help to keep busy public spaces safe for everyone to enjoy.

However, the conventional eye in the sky does have drawbacks. Camera technology is only as good as the human operator. Although highly trained, in hectic environments officers can struggle to keep up with everything going on. In fact, the average operator can only concentrate on 4-6 screens at once. Very impressive, but not enough to cover an entire public space. In a security situation, the time taken for an operator to find the relevant footage can lead to delays or evacuations.

Cameras also raise the issue of privacy. An operator is given very close access to imagery of the public, raising concerns about privacy and data protection.

So how do we keep the public safe, and respect and protect their privacy?

One answer lies in sophisticated camera analytics technology. The software, imbedded into existing camera hardware, has been developed to tackle both the people power and the privacy matters.

So how does this tech work?

The technology, known as “smart video intelligence”, integrates artificial intelligence (AI) into existing surveillance systems and video feeds, and instantly analyses people’s features. For people, this means gender, age and clothing, but the system can also identify objects such as a baggage.

Many eyes make lighter work

The automated analysis is significantly quicker than a human operator. For example, Hitachi’s Smart Spaces and Video Intelligence system is being used to quickly identify a piece of lost baggage. The system reviews all video footage, identifies the bag within it and tracks the owner. The ability to trawl through hours of footage in seconds, to find the correct owner and identify their movements means less time wasted for station staff, no delays and a reduction in security risk. It also improves the service for passengers.

Anonymity assured

Using AI in surveillance systems not only helps surveillance officers to have several pairs of eyes on a situation, it also helps protect the public. The system is programmed to pick up features about a person’s appearance but not analyse their face. In fact, it can automatically blur faces so that operators don’t see them either. Not only is this more effective – many criminals automatically cover their faces – but preserves privacy for law abiding citizens.

Making camera’s smarter is in everyone’s interest. Having an AI in the sky means better outcomes for both public safety and privacy.

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