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Joe Stuteville
IU School of Informatics

Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2007

Sensor monitoring system could aid mass transit, homeland security

April 5, 2007

Karl MacDorman

Karl MacDorman

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Human behavior can be observed and accurately analyzed by a complex sensor network, a system that could ultimately benefit public transportation, homeland security and crime prevention, reports a research team at the Indiana University School of Informatics and two universities in Japan.

The researchers evaluated a distributed sensor network they deployed in the JR Kyoto subway station in Japan as part of the Digital City Surveillance Project. Their study appears in the April-June issue of IEEE Multimedia.

They blanketed the station with a sensor network of 28 wide-view cameras, and developed a system that "learned" from a station operator to recognize what people were doing in the concourse. The system then audibly told operators about events like overcrowding so operators could respond promptly.

"The advantage of this system is that it doesn't require an expert to design it to recognize a certain kind of event. Station operators can do that as new situations arise," said Karl F. MacDorman, associate professor of informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Joining MacDorman in the project was Hiroshi Nobuta of Wakayama University; and Satoshi Koizumi and Hiroshi Ishiguro, both affiliated with Osaka University.

MacDorman, an android science and robotics expert, said sensor networks are becoming increasingly important in supporting interaction between humans and robots.

"This is a large-scale practical system that incorporates learning," MacDorman added. "Normally, the system designer develops an explicit model of human beings and specific modules for recognized different kinds of behavior. Our system allows for the system to be trained by non-technical station operators in an hour or two."

The wide-view video cameras used in the study combined flat mirrors and hyperbolic mirrors designed by Ishiguro, who is internationally known for his work in robotics and sensor networks.

Apart from public transportation, such systems could be used commercially to detect shoplifting and vandalism. And they could be used for homeland security in areas such as bomb detection and monitoring of border crossings.

Sensor networks are already part of everyday life for many people. "There's not much you can do in, say, central London that doesn't show up on somebody's monitor," MacDorman said. "All of the cameras just aren't linked together yet, and human operators are still relied on -- but that's changing."

However, such surveillance technology brings with it privacy issues.

"Any technology, including the one we developed, can be used for the public good - and it also can be misused," MacDorman said. "That's why we all must be vigilant to make sure the governments and those using such technology are accountable and acting in the best interests of the people they serve."

IEEE Multimedia is one of several publications produced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an international organization.

To arrange an interview with Karl MacDorman or to obtain a copy of the published study, contact Joe Stuteville at 317-946-9930 or