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From smarter science to safer campus

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With a population of more than 40,000 students and staff, Curtin’s Bentley Campus is as busy as a small city. But unlike most cities, Curtin has the use of a surveillance system so smart it’s off the scale.

Curtin security control room with iCetana software.

Ten years ago, ‘Safeguarding Australia’ was one of the Federal Government’s four national research priorities. While the category is no longer one of Australia’s formal Science and Research Priorities (although many would argue it should be), the focus has produced excellent research outcomes in new surveillance technologies.

Perth-based company iCetana is a leading example. The company is now penetrating international markets with a dynamic live-monitoring surveillance system developed, in part, from work funded by the Australian Research Council.

The iCetana system monitors video captured by camera networks, using algorithms developed specifically to enable potential security and safety risks to be detected as they occur.

The research was conducted at Curtin’s Department of Computing, by a team focusing on anomaly detection in sensor data streams, and the development of new surveillance technologies, with the overall aim of improving community safety.

Now, one of Curtin’s foremost science innovations has returned to campus, working quietly behind the scenes to help ensure the safety of students, staff and visitors. However, iCetana is not only improving community safety at home; the system is deployed in transport hubs, shopping centres or other facilities that are accessed day and night, in several countries around the world.

iCetana’s head of business development, Stephen Bose, has recently returned from a tour of university campuses in the US.

“Universities see live monitoring as the cornerstone of their campus and public security,” says Bose. “The University of California, San Diego has expanded the coverage of its iCetana system within the first year of use, and the University of Texas at Arlington has just installed a new system.”

The company’s success is particularly gratifying for the team credited with developing the algorithms behind the iCetana system. Curtin researcher Dr Sonny Pham explains the efficiencies that provide iCetana with major strengths in a competitive market.

“Firstly, the system not only delivers in real-time, it also has exceptional scalability,” Pham says. “Conventional systems will accommodate only a few cameras per server, whereas the algorithms we developed enable iCetana systems to process footage up to hundreds of cameras per server…and we’ll continue to improve on this ratio.

“Secondly, because the detection technology is ‘self learning’, there’s no need for technical staff to spend their time performing complex configurations.”

Christopher Hall from Curtin Security explains what this means at ground level.

“When we connect a new camera to the network, the system analyses the camera’s entire scene meticulously for a two-week period, to determine the usual patterns of motion in that scene,” Hall explains.

“It can then distinguish between normal activity and deviations from the norm. It will learn that people walking towards a security gate is normal, for example. But if someone starts to climb over the gate, the system sees this as an unusual event.

“It immediately generates a detection and isolates the footage for the security operator to view and respond to.”

However, the iCetana system doesn’t pose the privacy issues that other monitoring systems may present.

“It doesn’t see things like you or I would in video footage, it just recognises pixel flow in the scene,” explains Stephen Bose.

“It’s like a traffic-light camera. The camera doesn’t ‘learn’ what you look like – it’s simply detecting movement, and you’re only detected if you behave abnormally and drive through the red light.”

Curtin’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry welcomed iCetana’s surveillance capabilities at Curtin, pointing out that “a secure campus provides a strong base for community engagement”.

In Victoria, Swinburne University of Technology and Deakin University have also adopted the iCetana system as part of their safety initiatives.

Adds Bose: “Because we’re continually accommodating new camera systems, iCetana can be deployed into an existing network as a plug-n-go solution.”

“So the system is well suited to organisations who have a surveillance network in place, but want to transform their operations via live monitoring, at minimum cost.”

At the Department of Computing, Sonny Pham is now working on the development of advanced algorithms to solve longstanding motion surveillance issues in specific environments, such as camera shake from train vibrations.

He also welcomes advances in camera technology that are enabling iCetana’s progress in ‘edge technology’.

“Rather than all footage being sent to the central server, some computation will be completed at the camera,” Pham explains. “This preliminary data-processing will make the system even more efficient.”

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