Real-Life Marauders' Map Tracks Many People At Once

Straight from the pages of "Harry Potter": The multi-camera system is currently used in nursing homes to monitor residents. However, its designers say it could help identify suspected terrorists in public settings.

What's the Latest Development?

Since 2005, designers at Carnegie Mellon University have been refining a surveillance system that is capable of tracking over a dozen individuals simultaneously -- just like the Marauders' Map described in the Harry Potter books. The multi-camera setup was originally developed for nursing homes so that staff could monitor its residents' activity levels. However, team member Alexander Hauptmann thinks that the system could be installed as part of a public security framework, and used with existing algorithms to help identify criminals or terrorists. Compared to other experiments on multi-camera/multi-object tracking, Carnegie Mellon's version was tested in real world situations, and is able to locate an individual within one meter of their actual position with 88 percent accuracy.

What's the Big Idea?

Most video analysis is done manually, which makes it fairly time-consuming and inefficient in situations where perpetrators -- like those who committed the Boston Marathon bombing in April -- are likely on the move. Carnegie Mellon's system uses a number of different pieces of video data, including apparel color, trajectory and facial recognition, to identify individuals. Future changes include recording a person's outline rather than their entire body in order to preserve privacy, as well as adding depth cameras to aid in location.

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