CCTV cameras are bringing more and more public places under surveillance – and passenger aircraft could be next.
A prototype European system uses multiple cameras and "Big Brother" software to try and automatically detect terrorists or other dangers caused by passengers.
The European Union's Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project uses a camera in every passenger's seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or "air-rage" incidents, by tracking passengers' facial expressions.
The system performed well in tests this January that simulated terrorist and unruly passenger behaviour scenarios in a fake Airbus A380 fuselage, say the researchers that built it.
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Systems to analyse CCTV footage – for example, to detect violence (with video) or alert CCTV operators to unusual events – have been designed before. But the SAFEE software must cope with the particularly challenging environment of a full aircraft cabin.
Threat indicatorsAs crew and passengers move around they often obscure one another, causing a risk the computer will lose track of some of the hundreds of people it must monitor. To get around this, the software constantly matches views of people from different cameras to track their movements.
"It looks for running in the cabin, standing near the
cockpit for long periods of time, and other predetermined
indicators that suggest a developing threat," says James
Ferryman of the University of Reading, UK, one of the system's
Other behaviours could include a person nervously touching their face, or sweating excessively. One such behaviour won't trigger the system to alert the crew, only certain combinations of them.
Ferryman is not ready to reveal specifically which behaviours were most likely to trigger the system. Much of the computer's ability to detect threats relies on sensitive information gleaned from security analysts in the intelligence community, he tells New Scientist.