New Security Camera Sees in 360 Degrees
The ISIS security camera.
A new security camera under development by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) captures video in 360 degrees and pieces the images together to form a complete picture of a scene.
Traditional surveillance cameras have been of great assistance to law enforcement officers. But once the cameras zoom in on a specific point of interest, they lose visual contact with the rest of the scene.
The new DHS video surveillance system being developed by the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) aims to solve this problem. Called the Imaging System for Immersive Surveillance (ISIS), the device combines new video camera and image-stitching technology and bolts it to a ceiling, mounts it on a roof, or fastens it to a truck-mounted telescoping mast.
Like a bug-eyed fisheye lens, ISIS has a very wide field of view. But that’s where the similarity ends. Whereas a typical fisheye lens distorts the image and can only provide limited resolution, video from ISIS is perfectly detailed, edge-to-edge, according to DHS.
That is because the video is made from a series of individual cameras stitched into a single, live view – like a high-resolution video quilt.
"Coverage this sweeping, with detail this fine, requires a very high pixel count," said program manager John Fortune of S&T's Infrastructure and Geophysical Division. "ISIS has a resolution capability of 100 megapixels."
That is as detailed as 50 full-HDTV movies playing at once, with optical detail to spare.
Quilting on the fly
For years, creative photographers have used low-cost stitching software to create breathtaking high-res images (like that famous image of the National Mall from Inauguration Day 2009). But those are still images, created days or weeks after a scene was shot, whereas ISIS quilts video, and in real time.
A unique interface allows one to maintain the full field of view, while a focal point of one's choosing can be magnified.
Other neat tricks – many of which are commercially available – will be provided by a suite of software applications called video analytics. One app can define a sacrosanct "exclusion zone," for which ISIS provides an alert the moment it is breached.
Another lets the operator pick a target – a person, a package, or a pickup truck – and the detailed viewing window will tag it and follow it, automatically panning and tilting as needed.
Video analytics at high resolution across a 360-degree field of view, coupled with the ability to follow objects against a cluttered background, would provide enhanced situational awareness as an incident unfolds.
In the event that a terrorist attack has occurred, forensic investigators can pour over the most recent video, using pan, zoom, and tilt controls to reconstruct who did what and when. Because these controls are virtual, separate investigative teams could study different regions of a crime scene simultaneously.
Only getting better
The creators of ISIS already have their eyes on a new and improved second generation model, complete with custom sensors and video boards, longer range cameras, higher resolution, a more efficient video format, and a discreet, chandelier-like frame no bigger than a basketball.
Eventually, DHS plans to develop a version of ISIS that will use infrared cameras to detect events that occur at night.
In December 2009, an ISIS pilot began at Logan International Airport, allowing potential DHS end users the opportunity to evaluate the technology.
Beyond the potential for enhancing security at our nation's airports, if successful, the current testing at Logan could pave the way for the eventual deployment of ISIS to protect other critical venues.
That is a good thing, says S&T's Fortune. "We've seen that terrorists are determined to do us harm, and ISIS is a great example of one way we can improve our security by leveraging our strengths."
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