London, May 31 : Scientists have developed a prototype in-flight surveillance system that uses multiple cameras and "Big Brother" software to try and automatically detect terrorists or other dangers caused by passengers.
According to a report in New Scientist, the system is referred to as the European Union's Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project.
It uses a camera in every passenger's seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or "air-rage" incidents, by tracking passengers' facial expressions.
The system performed well in tests this January that simulated terrorist and unruly passenger behaviour scenarios in a fake Airbus A380 fuselage, according to the researchers that built it.
Though systems to analyze CCTV footage - for example, to detect violence (with video) or alert CCTV operators to unusual events - have been designed before, the SAFEE software must cope with the particularly challenging environment of a full aircraft cabin.
As crew and passengers move around they often obscure one another, causing a risk the computer will lose track of some of the hundreds of people it must monitor. To get around this, the software constantly matches views of people from different cameras to track their movements.
"It looks for running in the cabin, standing near the cockpit for long periods of time, and other predetermined indicators that suggest a developing threat," said James Ferryman of the University of Reading, UK, one of the system's developers.
Other behaviours could include a person nervously touching their face, or sweating excessively. One such behaviour won't trigger the system to alert the crew, only certain combinations of them.
"Much of the computer's ability to detect threats relies on sensitive information gleaned from security analysts in the intelligence community," Ferryman told New Scientist.
According to Ferryman, this system will require thousands of tests on everyday passengers before it can be declared reliable at detecting threats.