Smart cameras to watch Canadian borders

The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is stepping up security on the border with Canada by deploying intelligent software for hundreds of video cameras that can see and analyze unusual activities or movements in real time.

The bureau, part of the Homeland Security Department, awarded a contract to ObjectVideo, a Reston, Va., company that develops software that provides real-time computer video analysis. ObjectVideo will install the new video surveillance system at ports of entry along the U.S./Canadian border — the longest contiguous border in the world.

The award is part of a larger project to use state-of-the-art technology to tighten border control in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Clara Conti, ObjectVideo's chief executive officer, said the software allows users to program the system to look for specific objects or any activity out of the ordinary — a person climbing a fence, for example, or an unusual object at the border.

It's surveillance by exception. The system sifts through the vast majority of routine images, so users can focus on causes for concern.

The software evaluates surveillance videos as they are captured, so the bureau can respond immediately if something suspicious is found.

"When something happens, there is a computer or wireless alert," Conti said.

A bureau official described the contract value as a "substantial amount" but declined to say how much.

"It is not a camera," the official said. "It is a processing unit behind the scenes gathering data for video feeds with artificial intelligence."

ObjectVideo will begin installing its technology, Video Early Warning, at ports of entry in Washington state.

The technology uses artificial intelligence known as computer vision to detect and identify objects captured on video. It enables bureau officials to use manpower more efficiently. Instead of relying on an individual to monitor a computer screen, the software does it for the agency.

ObjectVideo was founded in 1998 by three former research scientists from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency who were experts in computer vision, an area of artificial intelligence. The company has similar contracts with other civilian agencies and the Defense Department.


Seek and find

Potential applications of computer vision include:

* Personnel protection — Monitoring restricted areas, such as parking lots, for unauthorized objects, including vehicles or packages. * Asset protection — Detecting unauthorized motion of watched objects.

* Access control — Monitoring movement of people through access points.

* Intrusion detection — Monitoring perimeters for unauthorized access.


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